Author's Note

I've decided to transfer this fic over from another site...just because I want all my fics in one place...but I'm warning readers that it's NOT "complete." I started this in 2003 when I was in college—it was my most favorite distraction from homework and writing papers (history majors have to write A LOT of papers)—and it's been ongoing since. I haven't, however, updated it in just over a year (last update was 2 March, 2010)...but that doesn't mean that I'm done with it.

Further, just so you know, though I've liked writing stories for a very long time (since grade school), this was my first attempt at writing fan fiction. I think I did a pretty good job (if the comments on the other site are anything to go by), but there are PLENTY of mistakes...typos as well as just plain poor use of words, punctuation, and overall grammar. Honestly, it's disgusts me! I hope you can get past it all and enjoy the story. =) And I am perfectly open to those who want to tell me where I've made errors (as long as those critiques don't tell me I've made errors with characters I created). :p

ETA (16 May, 2011): I've been skimming through some of this and finding all kinds of weird things...like dialogue that ends without an end quote...and spaces lacking between punctuation and the following sentence (or just the next word)...and more. I SWEAR that stuff isn't in my Word doc. WTF! GRR!

* Please note – the first five paragraphs of chapter one (in italics) are a direct quote from the book...and it is afterward that the story becomes mine (though most of the characters remain the property of Jean M. Auel). There are, however, a few places where I quote from the book...they will also be in italics (large bits bits only).

And...again...this was written way back in 2003, so please forgive me (and my possible misuse of words)...I've grown a lot since then...as I writer, I mean.

Rating: I'm rating this M, because there are sex scenes (and some rape scenes)...but there is no profanity (I don't think), because Jean M. Auel never cursed in her books. =)

I'm having some problems with the bold function...I hope I can fix it! And with italics too, apparently. GRR!


After the Death Curse – Part One (of ten)

Character List:

Broud (21) – leader (Wooly Rhinoceros totem)
Oga (17) – Broud's mate
-~-Brac (8) – Oga's first son
-~-Grev (4) – Oga's second son

Vorn (13) – Broud's second in command
Uba (8) – medicine woman, childless

Brun (33) – former leader (Bison totem)
Ebra (31) – Broud's mother

Zoug (43) – second in command to the leader before Brun
-~-Grod (29) – son of the mate of Zoug (Brown Bear totem)
-~-Uka (27) – Ebra's sister

Goov (20) – Mog-ur (Aurochs totem/Ursus totem)
Ovra (18) – Goov's mate, childless (Beaver totem)

Ayla (14) – Clan's first ranked medicine woman (Cave Lion totem)
-~-Durc (3) – Ayla's son, Grev's milk brother (Gray Wolf totem)

Aba (35)
-~-Droog (31) – toolmaker, Aga's second mate
-~-Aga (24) – Droog's second mate
-~-~-Groob (6) – Aga's son born to Droog's hearth

Crug (22)
Ika (20) – Crug's mate
-~-Igra (6) – Ika's daughter
-~-Baby (1) – Ika's child

Borg (9) – Boar totem
Ona (9) – Owl totem

XxX

Chapter One: Ayla's Defiance (originally posted on 25 July, 2003)

"I am the mog-ur. You are the leader. You have ordered Ayla cursed with death. It is done," Goov motioned, then turned his back on the leader of the clan.

No one could believe it at first. It was too fast. That wasn't the way it should be done. Brun would have discussed it, reasoned it out, prepared the clan for it. But he wouldn't have cursed her in the first place. What had she done? She was insolent to the leader and it was wrong, but was it cause for death? She had just been defending Creb. And what had Broud done to her? Taken her child from her and turned the old magician out of his hearth to get even with her. Now, no one had a hearth. Why did Broud do it? Why did he curse her? The spirits had always favored her, she brought good luck, until Broud said he wanted to curse her, until he told the mog-ur to curse her. Broud brought the bad luck on them. Now what would happen to them? Broud had made the protective spirits angry and then unleashed the evil ones. And the old magician was dead, The Mog-ur couldn't help them now.

Ayla was so lost in her grief, she wasn't aware of the rapid currents swirling around her. She saw Broud order her cursed, and saw Goov tell him it was done, but her grief-filled mind didn't comprehend. Slowly, the meaning impinged on her consciousness. When it penetrated, with all its ramifications, the impact was devastating.

Cursed? Death Cursed? Why? What did I do that was so bad? How did it happen so fast? The clan was as slow to comprehend as she. They hadn't fully recovered from the earthquake. Ayla watched them with a curious detachment as, one after the other, eyes became glazed and unseeing. There goes Crug. Who's going to be next. Uka. Now Droog, but not Aga yet. There she goes, she must have seen me look at her.

Ayla wasn't moved into action until Uba's eyes went blank and she began to keen for the mother of the boy she held in her arms. Durc! My baby, my son! I'm cursed, I'll never see him again. What will happen to him? There's only Uba left. She'll take care of him, but what can she do against Broud? Broud hates him because he's my son. Ayla looked wildly around, and saw Brun, but he too could not see her.

Broud stood there with his hands on his hips, seemingly proud of himself. Everyone had complied with the death curse. Why wouldn't they, he thought to himself. I am the leader, they have to, it is the clan way. The men were all watching him to see what he would order them to do next. Brun seemed to be the only hunter having a difficult time, but that will change in time. He must know that what I did was right. Many women stood there shocked, while others looked toward their mates for reassurance. Even Uba was mourning properly. Broud watched his clan with satisfaction.

As Uba stood there shaking, she dropped to the ground in misery, keening her grief and holding Ayla's child. Durc was screaming, "Mama, Maama, Maaama," and struggling to get free from Uba.

It was only the screams of her son that caused Ayla to take in what was happening. Without hesitation, she hurried over to Uba, gently took Durc from her unresisting sister's arms and hugged him tightly. Her eyes began to water, and her mind was racing. What can I do, she thought? I cannot leave my son, my only child, Ayla thought to herself. It was too hard. I never thought my totem could be defeated, and then it was. Then I had the most awful pregnancy, and almost died giving birth. Then I almost lost him because they think he's deformed. I will not lose him now! I won't leave my son! I will stay! I will stay and protect Durc myself, even if no one can see me. I will stay and do everything I can to take care of him…spirit or not!

"Broud!" Ayla growled loudly after she handed her son back to Uba and marched up to the leader. Most of the clan blanched visibly at the sound of the spirit's voice, including Broud.

Broud struggled with the vision he was seeing. He tried not to see the angry spirit of the woman, but he could not miss the tall, blond woman standing just feet in front of him. I'm not dead, Broud," she gestured defiantly. "I won't die. You can't make me die. And you can't make me leave either! I will follow you to whatever new cave you find. I will make myself my own hearth within that cave. I will hunt for myself and not just with my sling, and you can't do anything about it. I will stay and you will have to deal with having a 'spirit' amongst you. I am going to stay with this clan wherever it goes until I am good and ready to leave it."

With that, Ayla signaled to Durc that she was going back into the cave to gather their belongings for the move. "Stay outside with Uba, Durc. It's dangerous inside the cave right now."

Durc looked at his mother, "Mama, you're coming back, right?" he gestured to her, and she nodded. Then she turned around to go get their things. Uba just stood there, still not seeing Ayla, as she held onto Durc looking sad and scared.

Broud was furious. His fists clenched and unclenched. She's supposed to be dead! Why was that spirit talking to that deformed child, and why was he seeing her? And why isn't Uba doing anything about the child's behavior? Broud was turning purple with rage again and was moving toward Uba and the child. Maybe she needs to be cuffed, he thought. That would show her to do what a woman should.

However, as Broud began to approach Uba, Brun saw what was going through the mind of the son of his mate and stepped in front of him. "I will not let you strike this woman when you don't have reason to."

XxX

Chapter Two: Packing Up (originally posted on 26 July, 2003)

Inside the crumbling cave Ayla went to the hearth she had always shared with Creb. As she looked around, her eyes blurred with tears again. This is where she had spent her days and nights for almost two hands of seasons. It was hard to believe they had to move.

She didn't know how long she had been standing there, but a slight movement beneath her feet, an aftershock, jarred her back to reality. She started for the cave's entrance to get to safety, but the earth's movement stopped as quickly as it had started, and Ayla decided to return to the gut wrenching job of clearing out of the cave.

As fast as she could, Ayla gathered their belongings. She made a pile of hers and Durc's things on the ground, but didn't know how she would get them all out of the cave. Then she thought of something that would help, she decided to take the hide shelter she used when she went with the men on hunting trips.Technically, it belonged to Creb, but he wouldn't need it anymore, she thought with a glance toward Creb's dead body, which was by Iza's burial cairn in an unused corner of the cave behind her.

Ayla pulled out his hide shelter, spread it on the ground, first putting Creb's, Durc's and her own bedding on the hide shelter. She figured that she would need everything that she could possibly carry. Then she started putting everything else of hers on the shelter one by one, Her medicine bag, her sling, two pairs of foot coverings, leggings, hand coverings, a fur-lined wrap, a hood…her cup and bowl, waterbags, tools, her collecting basket and the hide she used as Durc's carrying cloak. Then, she moved onto Durc's belongings, which wasn't much, only one wrap, a wolverine hood, his old foot coverings, hiscup and bowl and the little spear Grod had made for him not so long ago.

Ayla's thoughts turned inward again as she thought of the day that Durc had walked right past Uka...greeted her and called her mother and went straight to Grod and crawled up on his lap. Ayla couldn't help smiling to herself. Then Durc had grabbed Grod's spear and tried to drag it out of the man's hearth. When Grod took it away from him, he said, 'Durc hunt like Grod.'Smiling again, Ayla remembered Grod bringing Durc his own spear just days after that.

Coming out of her daydreaming, Ayla turned back to her work. She still needed to get the food stuffs that would be imperative for survival, …concentrated, high-energy traveling cakes of dried meat, fruit, and fat…birchbark packets of maple sugar, nuts, dried fruit, ground parched grain, strips of dried meat and fish, and a few vegetables.

After looking over her pile, she decided that was enough. After all, she wasn't actually leavingthe clan. She could always take food when the hunters returned from hunting, or the women came back from gathering. A glint of a smile crossed her face yet again as she thought to herself, if they couldn't see her, then they couldn't stop her. And besides, she had already decided to hunt more herself. She was going to make herself a spear as soon as a cave was found and she had the time. Glancing around one more time, Ayla grabbed the hide by one end and began to drag it out of the cave.

Ayla stopped once at Vorn's hearth, wanting to help with Uba's things. She even let go of the hide and considered helping, but then she stopped knowing Vorn would never touch their belongings again, except to burn them, if she touched them. Sighing, the dead woman took up the end of the hide once again and started for the cave entrance.

XxX

Chapter Two (continued), (originally posted on 27 July, 2003)

Not much had changed outside. Broud was still fuming, but he was trying to collect his thoughts, and a few people were moving around. Goov was standing with Broud and they were discussing who should go into the cave for everything. The rest of the men were waiting for Broud to decide. Broud had finally decided that it wasn't safe enough for the women to go back in, but all the men would have to enter the cave to get their things. The women weren't told what to do so they just milled around looking scared and unsure of what lay ahead.

As Broud and the other men reached the mouth of the cave, Ayla was leaving with her hide full of her things. She stopped and stood up tall as they neared, but most of them looked right through her. Only Brun and Broud showed the slightest look in their eyes, one kind, the other malevolent, which said they saw her even though they knew they shouldn't. She knew Broud could hardly contain his fury due to her refusal to leave, but Brun almost seemed amused. Amused at the strong will of the spirit of the woman to stay with her son, yet desperately disappointed in the son of hismate, and at the same time somewhat frightened of what was to become of his clan.

Ayla hesitated just a little, watching the men move around in the cave, then continued on her way outside. Obviously they were doing the same thing she was.

When Ayla got herself all the way out of the cave and over to where everyone was standing, she dropped her hide and went back to her son. Uba still had not moved. She was holding Durc and standing motionless. Ayla went up to her and motioned, "Thank you Uba for keeping Durc safe for me. I know I am supposed to leave. I know it is the clan way, but I can't. I cannot leave my son. Creb remembered everything I had said when I was death cursed before, so I know you can see me, and that I am scaring you. I promise not to do anything to hurt you. I'm sure you know I wouldn't hurt you. Uba, Broud is wrong, I am not dead! I am just Ayla, but I will try not to bother you, and I will miss our conversations, my sister."

When she was finished speaking, she put her hands on Durc to take him from Uba, but Uba held fast. Durc looked from Uba to his mother, then back to Uba suddenly understanding the problem. "Uba, it's okay," Durc gestured. "This is my Mama. She won't hurt me. I want to be with my Mama."

Uba wasn't sure what to do, but let go of the child anyway. She knew the spirit of Durc's mother wasn't going to leave and take the boy to the spirit world. Even though they weren't supposed to see her, everyone had seen the spirit say she wasn't leaving. She knew Durc would be safe. She would keep a close eye on him, andthe spirit of his mother that she wasn't supposed to see.

XxX

Chapter Two (continued), (originally posted on 28 July, 2003)

Inside the cave, Broud told the men to gather up their own hearth belongings and to leave anything that was broken in the cave. They didn't need to carry broken items as they traveled to another cave. Even he knew that wouldn't be fair to the women, as they would bear the burden of carrying most of the cave's contents. Broud noticed that Brun seemed to agree with his decision, and felt good that the former leader was satisfied with him.

What Broud didn't see due to his arrogance was that Brun didn't even see the new leader's instructions, and even if he had, he would not have had a look of satisfaction for the son of his mate. Brun was devastated by the turn of events and as far as he was concerned there was nothing Broud could do to rectify what he had already done.

Brun was instead thinking back to the time of the last earthquake that destroyed his cave, and their desperate search for a new cave. It had taken some time, he thought. It was Ayla that the spirits had shown this cave to first. It seemed like she brought his clan luck, but oh, how unlucky she must be herself. I must be so hard for that woman of the Others. Those Others are so different.

Brun sighed and looked around the cave again. His eyes fell on the son of his mate. How wrong he had been to make Broud their leader. Obviously Broud had been biding his time, silently waiting for the day that he could punish Ayla for imagined wrong doings. Then a thought came into the former leader's large brain…I wish Ayla had been the son of my mate.

Outside the cave, Oga sat with Ovra. Both were watching closely, waiting for the men to come out of the cave. It wasn't long before they came out with their arms full. Each man made his own pile outside so everything wouldn't get mixed up, and then returned for more. Once the items were put down, then women rushed over to begin the task of sorting things out.

When Oga saw Broud she got up, went over to him and kneeled down in front of him, indicating that she wanted to ask him something.

Broud paused, frustrated that she was bothering him when it was clear that he was busy, but he tapped her shoulder anyway, gesturing, "Woman, can't you see I am busy? This leader had much to do. You shouldn't be getting in my way." The leader puffed his chest up with self-importance, and stared at the cowering woman at his feet.

Oga looked at Broud in the way she always did, not wanting to anger him further, and said, "This woman is sorry for interrupting her mate. This woman would like to know if the women should prepare to travel, or set up a camp and start a meal."

Broud grunted. It was clear that he thought she should have known what he would want, but she was too afraid right now to assume anything about her mate.

"You lazy woman! You should be able to anticipate my needs. You should already know what I want…set up camp and fix a meal." With that he turned on his heel, and returned to the cave entrance to oversee the movement of everything.

Broud's blood was boiling. What is wrong with everyone, he thought? I have gotten rid of our biggest problem, and they are acting like the world has come to an end. Then, just before he disappeared into the cave, he glanced over at the defiant spirit and gave it a malevolent look. That spirit would pay, but not yet. Right now he had to empty this cave, and get ready to travel. Then, very soon, he would have to lead his clan off into the unknown wide expanse of land that lay out there to search for a new cave. Yes, she would pay for all that she had done, but not today.

Ayla was watching the exchange between Broud and Oga and shook her head at his meanness. When she saw the leader turn around and head back to the cave, she continued to watch him. When he looked over at her, she could not deny that he had seen her. He looked right at her with murderous eyes. She knew she didn't have to worry for the time being, because he had a lot to do, but she would keep her eye on the man anyway.

XxX

Chapter Two (still continued), (originally posted on 28 July, 2003)

Ayla had already begun to set up hers and Durc's stuff. She had been pretty sure of what Broud would expect the women to do and had no reason to care if he was upset that she had anticipated wrongly. Shrugging, she got out Creb's bedding, which was a large hide, and she put it on the soggy ground. The weather hadn't been too nice lately. The spring rains had been heavy and everything was wet. Then Ayla took everything off of Creb's hide shelter, set it all on his bedding and quickly set up her shelter in front of her pile on the bedding. After that she bought hers and Durc's things into the shelter. She had this done even before the men had taken the second load of things out of the cave.

Durc did his best to help his mother, but at three years old he couldn't really do much and went off to play with Grev as soon as he felt everything was at least going okay. Though he knew instinctively that his world had turned upside down, he also knew that his mother was there to help him and that was all that really mattered to him.

Ayla was watching everyone openly, even though they were all "not seeing" her. Uba was sitting next to her own pile of things, not knowing where to start. It took Ebra and Oga to force her up and get her moving. They had already gotten their own traveling tents set up, so they helped Uba with hers and Vorn's.

Uka and her daughter Ovra were working together to get each of their shelters set up, as were some of the other women. Ebra left Oga to deal with Uba and went to start a fire. That was not an easy task. Getting a fire started on the drenched ground and with saturated wood was proving to be nearly impossible, but just as Ebra was about to give up, Grod came out of the cave with a bit of burning charcoal, followed by Goov, who was carrying an arm load of wood to begin their fire. When Ebra saw them coming, she moved out of the way happy to see that she wouldn't have to labor so hard.

Finally, the rest of the men came out with their final loads and joined the women by the blazing fire. The women had set up camp in a generally circular pattern with the fire in the center of them all. It wasn't really planned that way, because the shelters were set up haphazardly before the fire was lit, but it was good all the same, and Ayla had managed, accidentally, to place herself very near everyone else, whether they liked it or not.

The sun was high in the sky when the women had the food ready, but the men decided they were going to fast and discuss the day's events. The women were left to eat alone, which would ordinarily be more relaxing for them since they wouldn't have to serve their mates, but with all that went on that day they were extremely nervous, and would have been glad for the presence of their mates. Not to mention the fact that the spirit of Durc's mother was lingering around, watching everything that happened.

Ayla didn't know what to do with herself. She was torn between being with the women, who were always nicer to her than the men, but with whom now she could not converse, and of course being near her son, which she felt could be lost to her at any moment. And then there was the thought that she could follow the men to see what it was that they talked about when they were "discussing" something. She decided to stay where she was for the time being. There would be plenty of times she could invade the men's private times without them being able to stop her.

So, she sat on her outdoor hide nibbling on some meat and thinking. It really hadn't taken very long for disaster to tear everyone's lives to pieces just after their morning meal that day, she thought sadly. What was to become of them, she considered. I hope Broud finds another cave quickly. I hope I've done the right thing by staying. Oh, I miss Iza and Creb so much, she thought, and began crying out loud.

Every woman in the camp stopped talking for just a moment, all wondering if spirits felt pain and loss, and in the case of Ayla, as one of the Others, cried out loud. No one could ignore the grief they most definitely heard.

XxX

Chapter Two (still), (originally posted on 29 July, 2003)

The men of the clan were all sitting out in the practice field, not really discussing anything. No one wanted to talk with Broud, because they all secretly blamed the young, inexperienced and cruel leader. Brun blamed himself more now than ever, but he too sat in silence.

Goov sat just a little away from the rest, trying to meditate. He blamed himself as well for blindly listening to the leader when the leader was so wrong. But,he thought to himself, that is the clan way. Who was he to go against their leader? Up until this day, Goov had considered Broud his friend. He pondered this even though he knew that Broud would never be fit to lead. But, what could they do now? It was done. Broud was leader, Ayla was cursed, the spirits destroyed their cave and Creb, the greatest and most powerful Mo-gur, was dead. None of that could be reversed.

Goov was trying to call upon Ursus hoping the great cave bear would tell him what he had to do to take care of the clan in spite of Broud. He was asking for strength to deal with what lay ahead, the unknown. And, he was asking for courage to deal with the presence of the spirit, Ayla, for he too could not deny that he saw Ayla's spirit hanging around and watching everything, and talking to her son. He was just the best at hiding it, since he had spent many years training with the Mo-gur.

As it became twilight, the men slowly, one by one, got up and went back to the outdoor camp that the women had created. Brun and Broud were the last to leave the practice field.

As Brun came into view Ebra quickly got up, fixed him a plate of food and at his nod, settled herself down next to him. They were great comfort to each other, they had always been good together, but on this night they really needed to be close.

Oga did the same for Broud, but he claimed the food was cold and tossed his food into the fire. "Get in my shelter woman," he gestured as he pushed her toward it and made the signal. Oga went inside and was on her knees and presenting before Broud could even get into the shelter. He came up behind her and almost with fury entered her and began pumping away. He was holding her hips and thrusting deeply trying to burn off steam, and she was groaning with each thrust, as she wasn't used to such roughness. He wasn't hurting her, she was used to him, but she was more than a little confused by his behavior. He had never been mean to her before, but on that night she knew he wasn't doing this because he cared for her. As he pumped and strained, she began questioning herself. She had always been a good woman, hadn't she? She had brought two fine sons to his hearth. Why was he so upset with her? She was never insolent to him. Well, except for that one time when Ayla needed her to nurse Durc, but that was her right, wasn't it? Even Brun thought Broud was wrong there.

Ayla stared in horror as Broud relieved his needs with his own mate more roughly than when he had shoved her own face into the dirt four years before. Tears came out of her eyes at the thought of her own experience with him then, and now because he was basically doing the same thing to Oga.

Ayla tore her eyes away from the spectacle before her and looked around the camp. Most were getting up to go to their own tents, not wanting to have to avert their eyes any longer. Most didn't even finish their meal.

Ebra was taking care of Brac and Grev. It was obvious her son was busy. Too busy to be thinking about Oga's sons. They would have to sleep with herself and Brun. She knew her mate wouldn't mind at all. Secretly she had always been appalled at Broud's treatment of Ayla, but a good clan woman would never admit that to anyone. Now, he was turning his hatred of Ayla on Oga. If she had been able to, she would have been crying as well.

Now that his playmates were gone, Durc came up to Ayla and crawled onto her lap saying, "Mammm, mammm, mammm." It wasn't something he had vocalized before, but it made her feel good that his arms were around her neck and he was calling her something special. It didn't matter to her what he said, only that he said it to her. She picked him up and brought him into her shelter signing "Durc, you fill me with happiness. Goodnight my son."

When Ayla came out of her tent and sat down again to finish her tea, she noticed that Brun was looking at the ground, drinking his tea and shaking his head at the sounds of Broud pounding his mate wildly. It was obvious by the final loud moan of the leader and the sudden silence of Oga when Broud had finally finished.

Once he was sure they were done, Brun's head came up and he looked directly into Ayla's eyes. He did not even attempt to look away. Brun watched the tears stream down the spirit's face, contemplating the spirit world. That's very strange, Brun thought. Do the Other's spirits have watering eyes? Ayla's eyes always watered when she was upset or hurt. Would her spirit do the same thing. I think I will have to talk to Goov sometime about spirits.

When Ebra had gotten the sons of the mate of her son into their sleeping places, she returned to her mate. Age had made them very comfortable together and now that everyone else, less Ayla, had gone to bed, she put her arms around the man that she had spent her life with. They held each other for sometime; taking comfort in knowing the other was thinking similar thoughts. Ayla wanted to hear and see all, but even she knew they needed some time alone and went to her bed where Durc was already sleeping.

The only other people still awake were Uba and Vorn. He too had relieved his needs with his mate, but gently and lovingly, and with no anger. Vorn finish quickly and was holding Uba close, knowing that his mate needed him at that moment. He was also thinking about the next day and what it would bring. Uba was lying there completely still, wishing that this day had never happened. Wishing that she had died along with Creb, or that she could have been cursed with Ayla. At least then she would have her sister.

XxX

Chapter Three: Discovery (originally posted on 29 July, 2003)

Oga woke early, not remembering where she was, but after glancing around the shelter, memories of the day and the nightbefore flooded back to her. She looked to her left, over at Broud, who was on his stomach with his face buried in the furs and sleeping soundly. She grimaced at the thought of him being full with need again.

Slowly, so as not to wake the spent man, Oga climbed out of their furs, put her wrap on quickly and left the tent. It was earlier than she had thought, not really even light yet, but Ebra, Uka and Aga were already up. The three women motioned a morning greeting and Ebra patted the place next to her indicating to Oga to sit there, and Aga held out a cup of tea. Oga went obediently over to Ebra and sat down, frowning down into her tea. The other women knew Oga was confused, but none knew what to say to her. Ebra felt awful. Oga had always been a good woman to her son and hated to see her so upset.

Not much time seemed to have passed when Ika and Igra came out of their shelters, and then Uba appeared, looking as if she hadn't eaten in days. Slowly, one after the other, the clan began to wake up to another day.

When Durc appeared in the opening of his tent and saw Oga, he went over to her to nurse, just because he knew he could. Oga welcomed the child happily even though he was well past his weaning year. And then, just like clockwork, Grev appeared wanting her other breast. She only had to reposition herself to accommodate her son.

The other women looked on with amused expressions as Oga held and nursed both boys at the same time. They played with each other and toyed with her nipples more than actually suckled them. They were milk brothers. They just wanted to be near each other, and have the security of her breasts at the same time. Oga was a good woman, Ebra thought. She always had been.

Oga was hoping that Broud would sleep late, as she had had quite the evening the night before and she wanted to relax just a bit, but she heard him rustling and got up to make her mate some morning tea. She hardly had time to get the tea steeping when Broud made his presence known.

"Oga!" he called. When she turned around, she was disappointed to see that he was making the signal again. Obediently, Oga got up and hurried into the shelter and assumed the position. Broud did not carry on they way he had the night before. Oga didn't know why she thought Broud wouldn't want her this morning, this was how they started almost every day, but Oga didn't feel any better about it. She was just a little sore from the night before, and her moans carried across the encampment.

Ayla was awoken by Broud's shout and listened, without wanting to, to him relieving his needs again and Oga moaning as if she hurt. How can she stand it, she thought? Slowly Ayla sat up, not sure what she should do. She crept over to the tent's entrance and spied on the people. For the moment she was content to listen to her clan busying themselves and watch them talk to one another. She knew as soon as she went outside the air would change.

After a time, Ayla could no longer wait, she had to go relieve herself. When she appeared no one did anything, so she just took care of herself and returned for tea. As soon as Durc noticed his Mama, he came running up.

"Mammaaa," he said and then signed, "I'm so happy to see you. I thought you would sleep all day."

Ayla laughed out loud. "Durc, it's barely light out. Why would you think I'd sleep all day? Now, go play, I have work to do," she said brushing him off, but at his look she smiled. She could not resist her son and scooped him up, tickling him just to hear him laugh. She had never done that when they were around the clan, only when they were out alone, but now she didn't think it mattered. The people of the clan looked uncomfortable, but Ayla didn't really care what they thought. They had better get used to her being there.

Broud had emerged from his tent feeling much better, but scowled at the child for making unnecessary noises and for acknowledging the spirit, then announced that they would leave after the morning meal, "so pack up," he gesticulated angrily.

Goov still had some important things to do in the cave, like Creb's burial. Brun had asked to go with him and witness the burial of his brother, and Ayla decided that she was going too, but no one else went into the cave with the mo-gur and the former leader.

Goov went into the cave with Brun on his right and the spirit of Ayla just behind them. He had already decided that Creb's body wouldn't be removed from the cave. Not only his position in the clan hierarchy, but his intimacy with the spirits dictated a burial place within the cave.

Goov had started the process of getting the Mo-gur's body ready the evening before while the other men carried out everyone's belongings, but now there was more work to do.

He used a digging stick to loosen the dirt of the cave floor, then began to scoop out a depression in the floor. Afterward, he sprinkled red ochre dust inside making the gestures that consecrated the ground. He pulled the cover back to reveal the gray naked body of the Mo-gur. His arms and legs had been flexed and tied into a fetal position with red-dyed sinew. The magician made a protective gesture, then lowered himself down and began to rub the cold flesh with a salve of red ochre and cave bear fat. Bent into a fetal position and covered with the red that resembled the blood of birth, Creb would be delivered into the next world the same way he had arrived in this one.

When Goov had finished he and Brun and Ayla placed rocks on the dead man in the shallow grave so that no scavengers would disturb the body. Both of the men knew she was there, her eyes watering in grief, but neither of them cared. They were a bit nervous, and wouldn't look at her, but they knew Ayla's spirit loved the man of her hearth dearly.

Brun walk slowly out of the cave and Goov went back to the men's cave. Ayla watched them both leave, but she could not go just yet. This man was like the mate of her mother, even though they were siblings and not mates, and Iza wasn't really her mother. This man had been the man of her hearth for as long as she could remember. This man was the man that all would have to compare to. Ayla looked around at all that was lost and sobbed anew at the loss of Creb.

Goov had gone back to the men's cave so that he could finish up the last of his business in this destroyed cave, but he was completely unprepared for what he saw. There, in the middle of the smaller cave, stood the sacred bones, and though they were all there, the last bone was no longer in the base and through eye socket of the cave bear skull. The aftershocks of the quake had removed them. Had the spirits been that upset with Broud for cursing the woman? Did that mean Ayla was no longer cured?

Goov's mind was reeling at the mere thought that the death curse didn't work. That the woman sobbing on Creb's grave was alive and well, but what should I do, he thought? Broud would just have me curse her again if he knew.

Looking at the bones one final time, Goov got up and left the men's cave. He glanced at the woman as he passed. She was now leaning over the rocks that covered the Mo-gur's head and was sobbing loudly. Goov continued to the mouth of the cave. He had to speak to Brun.

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Chapter Four: The Secret (originally posted on 29 July, 2003)

Goov blinked as he came out into the sun and looked around for Brun. He did not see him at first, but as he stood there Brun emerged from his shelter. Ebra was helping him to collapse it, but when she saw Goov standing in the triangular entrance of the cave looking around, she said, "Brun. Goov," and pointed.

Brun glanced at the cave's mo-gur and knew that something was wrong. "Ebra," Brun said. "Get one of the women to help you with this. I have to go see what Goov wants." Ebra nodded, but her mate had already turned around and was striding up the small hill toward the cave.

Brun looked at the trouble young man and asked, "What is it Goov?"

"Come!" The man voiced in words. Brun knew it was serious, Goov would never command the former leader if it wasn't serious.

When they got to the men's cave, Goov said nothing, but pointed at the bones instead. Brun just stared at them. Then, using only gestures so that the woman on Creb's grave would not hear a thing, Brun gestured, "Did you move them?"

Goov shook his hear vehemently, "I came back here and that's where they were. Brun, I don't know what this means. Is she no longer cursed?"

"Goov, you are the mo-gur, not I. If you do not know, then I do not know." Both men looked toward the entrance of the men's cave, then Brun made a decision, "Broud must not know about this yet. He would become furious and curse her again. I don't think the clan could take it if the son of my mate did that again. We would be destroyed for sure."

Goov nodded, but frowned, "but what about Ayla? She's not dead. This has got to be awful for her."

Brun breathed an audible sigh, "We will have to tell her, at some point. Soon, but not yet. Hurry, let's pack up the rest of your things Goov. Wrap the bones up tightly in their hide, so that we can go."

After helping Goov, Brun left the men's cave. He stopped and looked at his brother's grave and the woman sprawled across it. Hold on Ayla, he thought to himself. We know you are not dead. Then he sighed again, this time quite loudly. Ayla looked up at him.

When Goov was finished, he too left the men's cave and stopped next to Brun and looked at Ayla.

Ayla's reddened eyes widened, "Brun? Goov?" Then she gestured, "What is it?" They didn't answer her, but something was most definitely different. They left the cave hurriedly, not looking back. Ayla watched them go, then got up and followed slowly. When she saw that their camp was almost broken, she hurried out to pack up her things. She had a lot to carry. How was she going to carry it all?

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Chapter Five: And They're Off (originally posted on 30 July, 2003)

When Ayla finally got down to her shelter, she wasted no time emptying it and taking it down. She rolled it up and wrapped leather straps around it to secure it. Then, she grabbed her collecting basket and packed it to the brim with all of hers and Durc's miscellaneous belongings, putting traveling food on the top for easy access. And finally, she folded up their bedding and placed it in the center of what wasCreb's bedding, but was now their outside floor covering. Though Ayla hadn't intentionally put it out as a sort of doormat, that's what it became. It had been nice to have something on the soggy ground outside their shelter to wipe their feet off before entering the tent. She would definitely utilize Creb's hide again for that purpose.

The only items she didn't pack up were her medicine bag, which would hang around her waist, as it always did; her sling, which she would want to have ready at a moment's notice; and Durc's miniature spear, which she knew he'd want to carry himself when he was walking.

Ayla stood up and looked at her things. How could one woman have so much, she thought? And how can I carry all of this, and my son when he wants me to? Her mind was racing. She quickly took another leather strap and shoved it through the center of her hide shelter, which was rolled up, and pulled it out the other side. Then she held the strap so that is was about as long as her arms were long, with the shelter in the middle. And finally, she tied the ends of the strap together, so that she could hang is over her shoulder. That left her full collecting basket, their bedding and Durc. Ayla decided to do the same thing to the collecting basket, to be carried on her other shoulder, and she'd just have to carry the bedding and her son. She frowned at the thought of the load, but there was nothing else she could do at that moment, and she needed everything she had.

When Ayla finished getting her things together, she looked around. Everyone else was almost ready as well. She decided to sit down and rest until everyone was completely ready. She knew she would need her strength for their trek.

Most of the children were playing quietly, oblivious to the strain of the group. The women, however, were busily gathering and packing, while the men just sat there and watched. Ayla thought it looked ridiculous. The men should be carrying their fair share of the cave's contents. They were much stronger. They could be carrying more. She shook her head and sipped her tea.

As Ayla saw that they were almost finished, she got up, slung her packs over her shoulders, picked up her bedding and called her son over to her. "Durc, do you want me to carry you, or are you going to walk?"

Durc puffed up his chest and gestured, "I'm a big boy, Mama. I will walk." Ayla couldn't help smiling at her son. "Okay my son." She knew it wouldn't be long before the three year old came running up to her wanting to be carried.

Broud and Vorn were standing in the clearing waiting. Broud looked none too happy at how slow this process was taking. When the women were ready, they herded the children and came up to stand unobtrusively behind the two men. Uba took her place just in front of the Oga, and other women, but behind Broud and Vorn. The older men flanked the women, Brun, Grod and Zoug on one side of them, and Crug and Droog on the other. Then, bringing up the tail end of the lot were the younger men.

Ayla didn't know what to do with herself. As medicine woman, she should be where Uba was. She looked at Brun, who gave her an unmistakable nod, which told her to get to her place. Ayla handed Durc his little spear and went up to stand beside Uba. Uba stiffened up, but kept her eyes on the men ahead of her.

This will be very interesting Brun thought, with a glance back toward Goov. Goov was walking in the rear with Borg, but saw Brun's look all the same.

Finally, Broud made the signal that told them they were off.

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Chapter Six: Traveling (originally posted on 30 July, 2003)

Day One and Two

The clan left their home of nine seasons with great anxiety. Broud had decided that they would travel along the watercourse they had crossed when they had gone on their mammoth hunt seasons before. In order to get there, they had to first travel in a northeastern direction, to skirt the hills that surrounded their cave. They trooped down the wooded flanks of the foothills and reached the steppes before the sun was at its zenith. Broud set a fast pace, making it quite difficult for some of the older, and younger travelers. Unlike the time of the mammoth hunt, the women's burdens were extremely heavy. They carried the life of the clan on their backs and shoulders.

Ayla was having a hard time with her load, not to mention that Durc's walking hadn't lasted long and she was now carrying him as well. Not having anyone to talk to while traveling made it all the more onerous, not that she could have lifted a hand to speak.

After a short time, Durc struggle to get down again, and Ayla shook her arms out, knowing that in minutes he would be back. When Grev saw Durc get down, he too struggled to get out of Oga's arms. The two women watched as Durc and Grev followed behind Brac, trying to act older. Ayla smiled and Oga grunted, both happy for the rest, even if only for a short time.

It wasn't long before they had reached the place in which they would turn northwest. Broud decided to stop for a meal. He was hungry. Broud signaled that they would stop. Then signal that they would stay there overnight and leave again in the morning before the sun came up.

Vorn quickly withdrew from his waist thong the long aurochs horn in which he carried a live coal wrapped in dried moss. As Broud's second-in-command, it was his duty to keep the ember burning from fire to fire.

Ayla dropped her things quickly and sat down on a rock.

When a fire was going, the women prepared tea for the men and started a meal. Brun sat thinking about Broud. He should not have stopped so soon. There was still plenty of daylight left in this day. He wondered if he should say something to the son of his mate. Probably not, he thought, he would just get defensive.

While the meal was cooking, the women began to make camp. Ayla decided to only unpack the absolutely necessary items. She set up their tent and bedding, but opened nothing else.

The evening was uneventful. Everyone ate and went to sleep. The people of the clan were exhausted. They weren't used to traveling so much, and certainly not so heavily burdened.

That night, Ayla lay in her shelter trying to think up another way to carry her load. It would be nice to have her hands free when she wasn't carrying her son. She couldn't think of anything and drifted off to sleep.

It was still dark when the clan got up the next day. Broud planned for them to travel from sunup to sun down. They needed to find a cave. They did no cooking except to boil water for tea, and little was required of the women. No game was hunted along the way; they all ate the traveling food the men usually took hunting: dried meat ground to a coarse meal, mixed with clean rendered fat and dried fruit, formed into small cakes. The highly concentrated traveling food supplied their nutritional needs more than adequately.

During the second day of travel, no caves were found, but they did reach the watercourse they had been looking for. They turned north northeast and followed it until it turned northwest. As the watercourse gave way to a large channel, more of a lake really, the people stared at the majestic beauty of the land, unable to fully enjoy it. When the sun finally went over the horizon in the west and darkness crept over them, they stopped and made camp, most collapsing into the beds as soon as they were ready. Not even Ayla could keep her eyes open long enough to think about the coming day.

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Chapter Six: Traveling (continued), (originally posted on 31 July, 2003)

Day Three

Even before the sun started rising the next morning, Broud was calling for movement, but not before he relieved his needs with Oga. That part of his routine would not be changed, he thought.

Ayla yawned, still very tired, but woke her son and got up anyway. When Durc opened his eyes he signed, "Mama, it still dark. I don't want to get up. And where is Creb. Durc want to walk with Creb today." Ayla sighed and explained to her son that they had to travel so that Broud could find the clan a new cave. "And Durc, Creb walks the next world now. We can't see him anymore." Durc looked curiously at her, hugged her for reassurance and left the shelter.

Ayla thought about her son's wording, walk with Creb, he had said. I hope my son will not walk with Creb for a very long time.

They started off again, just before dawn, in the same order as they had the day before, lugging their heavy loads. Broud and Vorn got so far ahead that they were sitting down waiting when the clan came around a corner. Broud wore his usual look of disapproval and Vorn stood by waiting loyally with his leader. As soon as Broud saw the people coming, he picked up his spear and started off again, not giving anyone else a chance to rest.

When Brun came around the corner and saw that Broud was starting off again, he looked around at Broud's clan. They are very tired, he thought. I will go talk to Broud about this.

"Broud," Brun said as he approached the son of his mate. "I think everyone will do better if they have some time to rest. I know you want to find a cave, but we don't want people dying in the process."

Broud considered what Brun had to say. He still had great respect for the man, but he was also hoping that someone would "die in the process"—namely Ayla's deformed child. He knew the spirit would go away if the child was dead. "Yes Brun, you are right. I don't want my clan to die. Inform everyone that we travel just a little further, and then we rest for the night."

Brun went back without haste and let everyone know. He was glad Broud had made the right decision, but he knew his son well enough to know he was thinking sinister thoughts even as he agreed to what the former leader had suggested.

The people were happy to find out they would be getting the afternoon off. They had made great process, despite what Broud thought.

It was probably about an hour later when they finally got passed the large "lake" that had been on their left all day. At that point, Broud called for everyone to halt. Fires were lit, shelters were set up, women began cooking, a few men did a little sling hunting and the children began to play.

After Ayla got her things in place, she decided to do some hunting of her own. She pulled out her sling and followed after the men that had walked off into the riparian growth.

Broud watched her go, and scowled once again. Why couldn't that spirit just go to the spirit world? Why was it lingering here? Most of his clan was not seeing her, as they shouldn't, but it seemed as if more and more of them were simply ignoring her, not just notseeing her. It made Broud so mad to think they liked the woman so much that they would endanger the whole clan.

Broud couldn't stand it anymore. He grabbed his spear and stormed off in the opposite direction as he hunters had gone.

Ebra and Oga, and many others, watched their leader stalk off, but only Oga became frightened. Now that Ayla was gone, she thought, she would have to deal with the angry man, and she feared that his anger would cause him to want to violently relieve his needs again. She shuddered at the thought.

Brun, Grod and Zoug were aware that the spirit was following. Only Brun knew she wasn't a spirit.

Ayla was thinking about the men ahead of her. Zoug had always thought well of her, he had even said he would have taken her as a mate, had he been younger. And Grod, had always been kind to her and her son, but she knew they were not happy that her "spirit" was following them.

Brun wanted so badly to tell them what he and Goov had discovered, but he wanted to talk to the mo-gur first. They had agreed to keep it to themselves for a while. At least until they had decided what to do about it. Maybe, Brun thought, maybe they should be told so we would have two more men to think about the problem. All he could do right now to reassure the other two men was to tell them he believed the spirit of Ayla meant them no harm.

Ayla watched Brun tell Grod and Zoug that he was sure she would not harm them, and saw them relax. She knew it was the best he could do, and Ayla was grateful, but she sensed that there was something else.

That night, sleep did not come easily, as they were still anxious about finding a permanent home. Many stayed up late by the fire telling stories to distract others from the fear of never finding another suitable cave.

Children fell asleep on the ground by the fire or in their mothers' arms, and were promptly put to bed. Slowly, as a cold breeze began to blow and the fire began to die down, couples went into their shelters to get warm in their beds. Ayla watched as the older couples left, and then the younger ones. Only Oga stayed, thinking that she should wait for her mate.

Ayla didn't want to leave her sitting there alone, but she was so cold. She decided to put another log on the fire and to climb into bed, positioned so she could still see the leader's mate. It didn't last long. Ayla fell asleep fast, and Oga was left alone anyway.

Oga sat by the fire thinking about things she had never thought about before. When the spirit put the log on the fire it scared her, but she had been cold and for the second time in her life she was thankful to Ayla, or rather, the spirit of Ayla.

Oga watched the spirit closely, lying in her shelter, obviously watching over her. When the spirit fell asleep, Oga became fearful again. She was still contemplating the spirit when Broud appeared, but she did not see her mate coming until she felt his fist crash into her face.

"Stupid woman. What are you staring at? That's a spirit! You will bring us more bad luck by seeing it."

Oga looked around. There was no one out there to help her. She got up quickly and cowered at her mate's feet, hoping he would forgive her.

Broud just stared at her, then tapped her shoulder and made the signal when she looked up. That would make him feel better, he thought. Oga started to get up to go to their shelter, but Broud did not want to wait. He grabbed her wrist and yanked her back and shoved her down, mounting her right there. When he was done he just got up and left her there.

Oga stayed where she was, so confused by Broud. She used to be able to please him, but now she couldn't do anything right. The woman wasn't sure what to do, but she didn't want to go into his tent, so she just lay there. Not long after that, she fell asleep.

Ayla started. She wondered how long had she been sleeping? It was freezing outside. The fire had died out, but the embers were still hot. What was that by the fire pit? Oga? Where was Broud? Ayla looked around, then got up, put another log on and touched Oga. She's freezing! What should I do? Uba, I'll go get Uba. No, she won't see me, but, but I have to do something.

The medicine woman looked around wildly. She was desperate. She picked Oga up and carried her to Vorn and Uba's shelter and scratched on the hide. Vorn appeared, but did nothing except for saying, "Uba come!"

Then, rubbing her eyes, Uba appeared as well. "What happened to Oga?" Uba asked Vorn, but he was backing up saying nothing.

"Uba," Ayla said. "Sorry to bother you, I know I promised, but Oga is hurt and cold. I don't know what happened to her, but I'm sure Broud did it. Please help her."

Uba wasn't quite looking at the spirit, but she understood what it had told her. With a clipped nod, the younger medicine woman brought the leader's mate inside her tent and went to work.

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Chapter Seven: Brief Respite (originally posted on 31 July, 2003)

Oga woke later with a bad headache and shivering with cold. Uba went to her immediately. Vorn was sleeping, but Uba had a patient and couldn't sleep. Uba fixed Oga some tea using a painkilling root, and sat down next to her.

Oga preceded to tell Uba what had happened, everything from wondering about the spirit of Ayla to how scared of her mate she now was. "Uba, I just don't know what's wrong with him. I try and I try, but he's so angry. And Uba, I can't help but wonder about Ayla. I don't think she's a spirit. Do spirits have watering eyes? Do spirits eat meat and drink tea? Do spirits talk to and hold their children? I don't understand." I wish the Mo-gur was still alive to tell us what's happening.

Uba had been wondering the same thing, but only asked Oga if she knew how she got into hers and Vorn's tent. Oga's brow furrowed, and she shook her head. "Oga, the spirit of Ayla brought you here. We were in our sleeping place and Vorn was relieving his needs and we heard someone scratching on the tent. It was Ayla's spirit, and she was carrying you to me."

Oga was shocked. She didn't know what to say, but now, for a third time, she was thankful for Ayla, spirit or not.

The two women got themselves comfortable, Uba in the middle with Vorn on one side and Oga on the other, and slept until morning.

Day Four

When Broud woke up, he rolled over expecting to find Oga with him, but she wasn't there. This was the second morning that he had to go find her and he didn't like that his mate was running off when she knew full well he woke up full with need every morning.

Broud stepped out of his shelter and looked around. Where is my woman? She was nowhere in sight. Brun, Grod, Zoug, Crug, Droog and Borg were sitting by the fire working on new spears and talking about hunting. Goov and Vorn seemed to be missing. Where were they? All the women were sitting together weaving baskets, which they didn't need at the moment, Broud observed. The children were milling around, doing nothing of use as usual. And the spirit was sitting alone, watching him again. Rude, he thought. Rude in life and rude in death. Then he noted that Uba was missing too.

"Brun! Where are Goov and Vorn?" Brun looked up and pointed toward the trees on the other side of the waterway. "They crossed over to look around," Brun gestured.

Broud looked over at the forest and frowned. Then he called on Brun again, "Brun! Where are Uba and Oga?" Brun looked at the son of his mate again, knowing full well what had happened the night before, and pointed to Vorn's shelter. "Oga's hurt pretty badly Broud. Let Uba do her work. We may not be able to travel today."

Broud gazed over at the medicine woman's shelter thinking, I didn't hit her that hard, did I?

"Well, if we can't travel, then we hunt! Get yourselves ready." With that he turned around to go find his spears.

The seven men left on a little hunting foray, leaving Goov and Vorn across the river and the women alone. As soon as the men were gone, the women rushed Uba's tent, wanting to know what was going on. Oga was up and claimed to be feeling better, but Ebra was mortified, she was sure Oga did not provoke Broud. She blushed with shame.

Earlier that morning, Vorn had gone to Goov wanting to talk to him about the spirit, but he claimed he wanted to explore across the river. They slowly waded into the water, testing the depth, as the clan could not swim. When they realized it was fordable, they crossed and walked on the beach on the other side before going into the trees.

Vorn obviously wanted to talk to Goov about the night before, so Goov said, "Vorn, what is it?"

Vorn told Goov his concerns and Goov could tell he was truly petrified that Ayla's spirit would bring disaster. Just like Brun had, Goov too wanted to tell Vorn about the bones, but didn't think the time was right. "Vorn, Ayla's spirit won't hurt you. She just wants to be with her son."

Vorn seemed to want to say more, but refrained and the two young men did a little hunting.

Day Seven

After two days of complete rest, Oga was ready to travel again. The bruise on the side of her face had turned from purple to a deep blue and would soon begin to fade to red then yellow, but her headache was gone, and she went back to sleeping in Broud's furs.

Broud was happy to have her back. In her absence, he had used Ona each morning when he woke up, but he did not like using other women. Though a woman and mated, Ona was too young, and she was not Oga.

That morning before sunrise, Broud woke Oga. She knew what he wanted even before she opened her eyes to see him full, and resigned herself. When he finished, he told her to pack up, "we leave today."

The camp was buzzing with activity. Everyone was somewhat glad to be moving again. The reason for their stop had not been a good one.

The time had been good for rest and good for other things as well. Ayla had created something to put on her back that she thought would carry all of her belongings, a backpack of sorts. It was large and heavy, but it would be on her back, which was stronger than her shoulders and arms, and her hands and arms would be free to do other things. She was quite happy with it and slipped her belongings into it and tied it closed. She was ready!

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Chapter Nine: Oga's Revelation (originally posted on 31 July, 2003)

Broud's new plan was to cross the river as Goov and Vorn had done, go through the trees and up the steep cliff so that they had a better view of the area. Brun thought it was a good idea, he didn't particularly like being in the canyon unable to see anything due to the dense growth.

After the children were carried across, the men helped the women. Ayla chose to swim across, since she loved swimming and hardly ever had the chance to do so, and nobody was going to help a spirit.

It didn't take long to climb up to the highland, and the people noticed the change in temperature right away. But,after that day each day began to blend into the next.

It was cold on the open windy prairie and got colder rapidly as they traveled north. Even so, shortly after they started out in the mornings, they removed layers of their clothing. Their pace warmed them quickly and only when they stopped for short rests did they notice the frigid temperature. The aching muscles of the first few days, especially the women's, soon disappeared as they hit a stride and developed traveling legs.

The terrain of the northern part of the peninsula was rougher. Broad flat plateaus suddenly disappeared into steep ravines or abutted sheer cliffs.

Brun remembered this landscape from when they had gone on their mammoth hunt. They weren't exactly in the same place, quite a ways east of where they had traveled before, he thought, but everything looked similar. Brun knew by the look of the land and the canyons that there would not be suitable caves in this area.

Broud knew it too, but decided to stay in one of the small caves for the night before they pushed on. A cave was chosen and everyone crowded in. It was cramped, but at least it was warm.

The women put all of the clan's belongings down and went to work on a meal. Ayla decided to work with the women, even if they would not talk to her. It felt nice just to be close to them. The only woman not helping was Oga, but she was sitting on a fur nursing her son and Durc. Ebra had sent her away, knowing that her son's mate really needed a rest, but that proved to be a mistake.

Broud fumed as he watched his woman nurse the spirit's deformed child. He was too old to be nursing anyway. "Oga!" he yelled across the small cave. Oga blanched, knowing Broud was angry again. "I don't want you nursing that child anymore. He is too old!"

Oga couldn't believe they were going to go through this again. "Broud, it's not hurting anything for me to offer my breast him. Grev still comes to nurse."

Broud's face got red and he gesticulated angrily, "I said, no more! He's too old!"

Ayla sat about fifteen feet away watching the scene. She had always been thankful that Oga would care for her son, despite what her mate thought. She too thought Broud was over this, but apparently not.

Oga shooed the boys away, and repeated to Broud that she could suckle whichever child she chose.

Broud could not believe his eyes. He couldn't believe Oga was being this insolent again. It was too much for him to take and he got up to go put her in her place.

Ayla saw what he had in mind and could not stop herself. She jumped up and positioned herself between the fuming leader and his mate.

Broud stopped short, saying nothing and trying desperately to not look at the spirit. Ayla too was fuming, "I have had enough of you Broud. I will not let you hurt Oga again. Mark my words, if you hurt her again, you will have this spiritto deal with."

Broud stood his ground for only a moment, then stormed out of the cave in a rage. He could be heard screaming at the top of his lungs and he didn't return to the cave until nightfall.

Later that night, Oga lay next to her sleeping mate, thinking about what had happened. What kind of spirit protected a woman from a man? None that she could think of. As she was drifting off to sleep, she decided that she no longer believed Ayla was a spirit. No one had ever seen a spirit that protected as Ayla did. Oga was sure Ayla was alive and well, and watching out for her.

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Chapter Ten: Oga's News (originally posted on 13 August, 2003)

The next day, as everyone was preparing to leave again, Oga quietly wandered over to where Ayla's belongings lay, and gathered up as much as she could secretly carry. She knew Broud would be furious if he saw her carrying the "spirit's" things, but she felt it was the least she could do.

Ayla was not when Oga did this, but she immediately noticed that some of her things were missing and looked around the small cave. When her eyes came to Oga, she could tell that the woman was carrying more, and knew that some of her burden had been taken by the leader's mate. Ayla sighed, knowing that Oga too had a lot to carry, but slipped on her backpack and headed out to her place in line. They were off once again.

Slowly, as the days turned into weeks, the group became very travel weary. They stopped periodically at cave sites, but the caves were never good enough to house all their people.

The weather had changed as well. Freezing rain flayed their skin raw as the wind whipped their wraps about them. Mothers held their children tightly, as icy blasts numbed their exposed skin, and the frigid slush soaked through their foot coverings.

The open prairies they traveled through offered no protection from the constant wind. They tried to stay near waterways, where the growth offered them a place to hide from the wind, but this was not always possible.

One afternoon, after a full cycle of moons, the clan stopped for a rest. Shelters were set up again and a fire was made. This time, three fires, as it was very cold. Broud decided they would stay for a few days.

Ayla watched the people of her clan closely. She could tell by the way they held onto their amulets that they were all asking the spirits to guide them. Everyone was afraid that they would wander homeless forever.

The people were not only cold and tired, but hungry as well. They had not been eating properly and it was beginning to show. Resistance was down and many had developed colds, but none so bad as Oga. She just could not continue to travel like this. Ayla desperately wanted to help the woman, but she had to leave it up to Uba. She was a good medicine woman, Ayla thought. Uba knew what she was doing.

Broud decided that they had to stay longer, so that the people could recover. With a week's rest, warmth from the fires and better food in her stomach, Oga began to recover from her cold, but she continued to get sick every morning. Ayla wished that she could examine the woman, but she was sure that Oga was pregnant. Uba too was keeping a close eye on Oga, and recognized the signs of pregnancy as well.

One windy morning Uba questioned, "Oga, when did your totem battle last?"

Oga frowned thinking back, "It was before the night that Broud hit me. Why?"

"Oga, I'm sure you're totem has been defeated. You're going to have a baby."

Oga was pensive. A baby, she thought? "This isn't good Uba. We have no place to live. This is no place to have a baby." Oga was clearly upset. "And Broud, he's not going to be happy about this. It's not the right time."

Uba looked at the scared woman, patted her hand and said, "Don't worry Oga, winter will be over soon and I will talk to Broud. And don't forget that Brun was looking for a cave when Iza was pregnant with me. It will be alright."

Oga still wasn't sure, but she relaxed somewhat. Uba was right, Iza had traveled pregnant too. If Iza could do it, then so could she.

Another baby, Oga thought. It would be a nice change, and maybe Broud would find pleasure in her again. Maybe he wouldn't be so angry anymore if she brought another son to his hearth…maybe.

Oga looked over at Broud, who had practically ignored her since the last incident with Ayla's "spirit." She was still nervous, but she was happy that Uba was going to talk to him for her.

That evening, Uba went to Broud's tent and kneeled down on the ground in front of him, waiting for him to acknowledge her. It took so long for him to tap her shoulder, she was sure he was going to ignore her. She started to become annoyed with him as she kneeled in the snow waiting for him, but she waited silently.

Broud had always felt strangely about Uba. After all, she was Iza's daughter and now she was their medicine woman. She seemed so important, even though she was only a woman.

He tapped her shoulder and signed, "What, Uba?"

Uba looked up at the leader and spoke, "This woman needs to tell the leader that his mate is sick."

"I know that Uba. Why are you telling me something that is obvious?"

"This woman thought that Oga was just sick, but she is not."

Broud frowned. "What do you mean? You just said she is sick and now you say she is not. Speak clearly!"

"What this woman means is that Oga is going to have another baby, and this traveling is not good for her. And,she is scared of having a baby while we are traveling."

Broud glanced over at his woman, who was lying down in the medicine woman's shelter, looking anxious about the medicine woman's news. He was not happy, she could tell, but he did not seem angry either and that was good.

"Okay, Uba. Tell her to rest. We travel again when the sun rises." With that he went back to his tent to think. So much was going on, and now Oga is pregnant again.

XxX

Chapter Eleven: The River (originally posted on 22 August, 2003)

Ayla had watched the scene with interest. Uba had handled the situation very well, and Broud had not become enraged…that was definitely good. He seemed better since the "spirit's" threat, but Ayla knew it wouldn't last.

So, tomorrow we travel again, Ayla thought, looking around at the people of the clan. This traveling has to end soon. We cannot take much more of this.

As it turned out, winter was gasping its last frozen breath, reluctantly giving way to spring, but the youthful season was a capricious flirt. Amid frigid reminders of glacial chill, tantalizing hints of warmth promised summer heat. In an impulsive shift, the storm broke during the night.

When the people of Broud's clan awoke the next morning and came out of their tents, they saw a cloudless day before them, and spirits of the people rose again. Broud called for everyone to eat hurriedly and be ready to travel. The morning meal was uneventful and the travelers moved on.

Toward the middle of the day the travelers came to another waterway. It appeared shallow enough to ford, but frightened the people all the same. This was the third river they had had to cross since the one after the "lake", and they weren't feeling any better about this crossing than any of the others.

Ayla could see that the people were very nervous, but there was nothing she could do to help anyone. She began to arrange her packs to cross, watching her people nervously as she did so.

The people of the clan had a system of how they crossed rivers. Basically, the men crossed slowly and formed a chain across the water, then the children were carried across, handed from man to man, until they were safely on the other side, and finally the women crossed with the help of the men.

This river, though not too deep, was moving very swiftly. The men braced themselves against the current and began their duty of moving their families across the river. The children were passed across with no mishap, and the women were one by one crossing with the help of their men. Ayla sat watching, she was extremely concerned for everyone, even if they weren't worried about her.

Finally, it came down to Ebra, Uka, Aga and Aba. Aba was encouraging Aga to cross next, so she could get to her son Groob. Aga crossed nervously, but got to the other side, and gestured for her mother to come next.

Aba instead gestured for Uka to go. Uka looked anxiously at Ebra and Aba, but took a step for the edge of the river. When she had crossed successfully, Ebra gestured for Aba to follow, but Aba insisted that Ebra go next. Ebra frowned at the older woman, not wanting to leave her there alone, but when she glanced toward the river, she could see that Vorn was the closest man to their side of the river and relaxed somewhat. He would help his mother's mother across if necessary.

That was Ebra's last thought about the matter of Aba crossing the river, for when she stepped into the water, her foot landed on a slime covered rock, which sent her immediately to her bottom and in a flash she was swept into the current and was dragged down the river quickly.

"Ayla!" Brun yelled. "Help Ebra!" Ayla hardly needed Brun's prompt. She was already in the water swimming with the current as fast as she could in the direction that Ebra had gone.

The women of the clan were screaming and the men just stared at the former leader's mate as she disappeared. No one was capable of doing anything. No one could swim. The "spirit" was their only chance.

XxX

Chapter Twelve: Ebra's Drowning (originally posted on 23 August, 2003)

Ebra fought hard not to be dragged down river. She tried to grab onto anything that floated by, logs, rocks, even a dead animal that had been sucked into the torrent. She even used her feet to push herself up off the bottom of the river, but it was useless. Her clan bones were just too heavy for even her strong muscles to hold up when rushing water was pulling so hard.

Ebra went under the water again and found the bottom of the river with her feet. She pushed up hard. When she came up, she took a deep breath and saw a large rock out in front of her. She decided to give one last effort to save herself. But, as she approached the rock, a current came in from the right and smashed her up against the rock knocking her out immediately.

Ayla was frantically swimming after Ebra, keeping her eye on her at all times, but never seeming to get close enough to grab the woman. When Ayla saw her go under the first time she thought it was over, but then Ebra popped up again. Ayla couldn't believe how much Ebra was fighting. Then she saw Ebra hit the rock and it was obvious the fight had gone out of her. Ayla fought anew to reach the unconscious woman and within three stokes had reached her.

Ayla turned Ebra over so that her face was no longer in the water, wrapped her arm around her and struggled to pull the woman, and herself, to the edge of the river. When Ayla's feet touched the rocky riverbed, she knew they were almost to safety and she fought harder still. Ayla pulled with all her might and finally managed to get Ebra out of the water.

However, as they reached shore Ayla noticed that Ebra was not breathing. She kneeled over the woman, who was on her back, and guessed that Ebra had swallowed a large amount of water. She didn't know what to do in this situation. She had never helped someone that was not breathing before. Iza had been the one to help Ona all those years ago, and she had been too exhausted from the rescue to watch what the medicine woman did. Ayla looked around. No one was in sight, she would have to do something on her own to help Ebra.

Ayla knew that if there was water inside Ebra that it had to come out, but how could she get the water out. She didn't know. Then a thought came to her, maybe I just need to get air into her body. Ayla tried to blow into Ebra's mouth, but the air didn't seem to go inside, it just came right back out. Ayla lifted Ebra up at the neck, hoping to straighten out the passage within her for the air. That seemed to help, but then the air just came out of her nose. So Ayla tried again, this time pinching Ebra's nose closed. Finally, the woman's chest rose and fell as the air entered her body.

Ayla waited only a moment to see what would happen. When nothing happened, she did it again. Ebra's chest rose and fell again, but still no change in the woman occurred. Ayla tried yet again and this time was rewarded with a gurgling cough as water came out of Ebra's mouth. Ayla turned Ebra onto her side so the water would not go back down her throat, and rubbed her back to comfort the retching woman.

Ayla couldn't believe she had saved her, and sighed with relief, but the look on Ebra's face was unmistakable. She could see Ayla. Ayla smiled, which no longer frightened the people of her clan. They all knew that Ayla did that when she was happy.

Ebra grabbed Ayla and hugged her close. She would be grateful for the rest of her life, however long that might be, no matter what her son said about it.

XxX

Chapter Thirteen: Ebra's Injuries (originally posted on 25 August, 2003)

Ayla hugged Ebra back, and then pulled away from her. Ebra had other injuries and she needed to assess the damage. The woman had a large gash on her forehead; she would have to do something about that, and it appeared that Ebra's leg was broken; that would have to come second she thought. Bleeding first, then broken bones.

"Ebra," Ayla started out. "This spirit would like to help you. Your head is bleeding pretty badly and you have a broken leg."

Ebra gave Ayla a quizzical look. "Ayla, you know as well as I do that you are not a spirit, and thiswoman would like to offer regret for the failings of her son."

Ayla could not contain her tears and looked down at the ground demurely. "Please do not feel badly about the way Broud treats me. I have a hard time doing what a woman should do. Now please, lie still while I look at you."

Ebra nodded. She would say nothing more at this time about Broud, but she was going to beg Brun to do something about her son's behavior. Not just for Ayla's sake, but for the whole clan.

Back at the part of the river where the clan was, everyone was staring transfixed at the spot that the woman and the spirit had disappeared. Brun was trying very hard to control his emotions, but he didn't care what people thought at that moment, his mate was missing and possibly dead. He had to do something.

He looked at the men that were still in the water. Vorn and Droog were closest to the other side, and Aba was over there alone. There was no way they would get her to cross now that she had seen Ebra go down so easily. Then he glanced at the people on his side of the river. They would have to set up camp there.

Brun signaled to the two men to go back to be with Aba, since they were both related to her in some way. Then he told them to travel downstream on their side while the rest of the clan traveled downstream on the opposite side. He hoped beyond hope that they would find his woman alive. He knew that if Ayla had anything to do with it, Ebra would be fine.

Ayla took off her medicine bag, thankful that it had survived the rapids, then pulled off her wrap and cut a strip of it off that was about four inches wide, but long enough to tie around Ebra's head. Then she cut a few more pieces of leather off, folded them up and placed them on Ebra's head. "Ebra, I want you to hold these on your head for awhile with pressure. We need to stop the bleeding."

Ebra did as she was bid, but lay back on the ground in exhaustion. Ayla continued to cut strips of leather off of her wrap and put them down beside Ebra. The medicine woman tapped Ebra's shoulder, "Ebra, I would like to look at the bleeding."

Ebra nodded and closed her eyes again. Ayla was pleased that the bleeding had slowed. She replaced the old pieces of leather with new and tied the leather strip around the woman's head, so that they didn't need to be held any longer.

"Ebra." Ayla said again. "I need to make a fire, it's starting to get dark and we cannot be without fire." Ebra nodded again and closed her eyes.

Ayla went into the nearby brush and gathered some wood, then went back for kindling. It was hard work starting a fire on her own, but Ayla was driven by shear need at the moment and had a fire going quickly.

After the fire, Ayla decided to get more wood, she needed to set Ebra's broken leg. That too was done swiftly, but it caused Ebra much pain, as Ayla had no way of easing it at the time. Ebra slipped into sleep and Ayla went to work on a basket so she could make some tea.

While Ebra slept Ayla made a watertight basket that she could use to boil water, she wanted to have tea ready for the injured woman when she woke up. She also used her sling to fell a hare, which she spitted over the fire for a meal.

At first Ayla didn't notice when Ebra awoke. She was looking around the area they were camped in, worrying that the clan wouldn't even look for them. They probably thought Ebra was dead, and they don't care if Ilive or die. Then a groan from the hurt woman told Ayla to tend to her patient.

In the mean time, Brun was issuing orders, just like he always had, and Broud was following them, but that was not to last for long. "Brun." Broud called. "It is late, we must stop. My mother is dead, you must know that."

"Yes Broud, we will stop, but only for the night. If Ayla has anything to do with it, your mother is still living." There was a desperate look in the former leader's eyes. He had never shown his emotions so openly.

"Brun, Ayla is a spirit. She cannot save Ebra." Broud was turning red again. "Why does everyone keep turning to that spirit? I am the leader!"

"Broud, you are the leader of this clan, I will not dispute that, but I will go looking for Ebra in the morning…and Ayla may be a spirit to you Broud, but she is my woman's last hope, and I will not give up just yet." Brun turned his back on the son of his mate and lay down to sleep for the night.

Broud was furious that Brun would confront him like that, and in front of the clan. He could see that they were trying not to watch, but it was obvious they had all seen the confrontation between the two men. It made him so angry, he could hardly see straight.

XxX

Chapter Fourteen: Uka and Ovra's Discovery (originally posted on 29 August, 2003)

Ayla didn't get much sleep that night. She spent a good amount of time keeping the fire going, chasing off animals and caring for her patient. Ebra was going to be all right. She was bloody, bruised and broken, but the medicine woman had cleaned her up and made her comfortable. Everything would be fine as far as that was concerned.

What Ayla didn't know was how far the river had taken the two of them, and with Ebra's injuries she wondered how she would ever get her back to the clan. What if the clan moved on without them and they never found them? Ayla was frightened, but she decided that she wouldn't tell Ebra what she was frightened about. Ebra would know something was wrong, but if she didn't ask directly, then Ayla wasn't going to tell her.

Back with the rest of the clan, Broud was trying to regain control. He figured his mother was dead, but if Brun wanted to look for her body, then he could do that.

"Brun, I will stay here with the clan while you go look for Ebra. Who do you want to take with you?"

Brun looked at the son of his mate incredulously, wondering how he could be so unfeeling.

"Goov and I will go looking on this side, and Vorn, Droog and Aba will continue down the river on the opposite side. Everyone else can stay here with you."

"Good. Then we will stay in camp here and wait for you to return."

When Brun started to turn to pack up some belongings, he almost tripped over Uka, who was kneeling at his feet, just to the side of him. He almost ignored her, but she was Ebra's sister, so he tapped her shoulder. "What is it, Uka?"

"This woman would like to come with you to find her sister."

Brun considered. He looked over at Grod, who motioned that he would come too, if Brun thought Uka might be in the way. "Yes Uka, you may come. Grod will come too."

Brun tried to leave again, but then he saw Ovra drop to the ground at his feet. "Ovra, what do you want. I am trying to leave. Can't you see that?"

"I don't mean to cause you delay Brun, but this woman wants to go too. If Goov, Grod and my mother are going with you, then I would like to go too."

Brun took a deep breath and looked around for Goov. He shrugged his shoulders. Brun grunted an affirmative to Ovra and quickly went to collect what he wanted to bring, before anyone else tried to slow him down.

Ayla had been up for quite a long time, but just before dawn she finally drifted off to sleep. When Ebra woke up that morning, she saw that Ayla was sleeping and didn't want to wake her. Ebra looked around the minimal campsite that Ayla had put together, and thought about how lucky she was that Ayla was a medicine woman that could swim and hunt. In no other clan would her life have been saved.

When she was done looking around the camp, she decided to have a look at her broken leg. Ayla had set her leg, which had caused her to pass out. It had been very painful. She could vaguely remember the woman trying to pour something down her throat as she slept. It must have been a datura tea. Ebra wished she had some of that tea at that moment, but when she glanced at Ayla, she decided not to wake her just yet.

Ebra continued to look at her leg. Ayla had used bark from a tree and strips of leather to make her leg immobile. She didn't know anything about healing, but she thought her leg looked good. Then her thoughts turned to the strips of leather, and she looked over at Ayla again. For the first time Ebra noticed that Ayla was naked. She has taken off her own wrap to make bandages for all of my injuries, Ebra thought, and though there were no tears, Ebra was overcome with emotion.

When finally she had to have a drink, Ebra decided to crawl over to the fire that was still going. She threw on another piece of wood, which Ayla had piled close and started water for tea. While that was going, Ebra helped herself to some of the meat that Ayla had made the night before. When the tea was finished, she just sat there drinking it, waiting for the medicine woman to wake.

Brun, along with Goov and Ovra, and Grod and Uka, left the area promptly and headed down river. Brun decided that he and Goov would have to tell Grod that Ayla was not dead, so there wouldn't be trouble if and when they found the two women.

"Grod, there is something we need to discuss." Brun started off unsure of how he should tell the man that had been his second in command. Goov immediately saw the problem and stepped in.

"Grod, I know you have always been uneasy about Ayla, but you need to know that she is not dead."

"What are you talking about? I saw you curse her Goov."

"Yes, I did curse her, as Broud told me to, but when I went back later the bones were no longer set. She is not dead."

Grod was obviously confused, "why did you not tell us all back then?"

"Well, Brun and I decided that Broud would only curse her again if we told him and we think the spirits favor her. We think Broud caused the earth to move, not Ayla. We did not want him to curse her again and cause more devastation."

Grod looked at Brun, then at Goov, then back at Brun. "You are right, she has always made me uncomfortable, but you are also right about her bringing luck to our clan. Zoug has always liked her and so has Droog. I understand why you have done what you have done, but what do we do if we find them alive? What do we tell Broud?"

"We aren't sure about that yet, Grod." Brun said. "Right now I just want to find my mate."

The men continued to walk as they talked, not coming up with a solution. They had forgotten about the two women that followed them. Uka and Ovra had watched the whole conversation. The bones were no longer set? Ayla was alive? What did this mean for the clan?

XxX

Chapter Fifteen: Other Witnesses (originally posted on 2 September, 2003)

On the other side of the river, Vorn, Droog and Aba were making their trek down river as well. It was much slower going for them for two reasons. First, the terrain was more difficult. It was rockier and hillier on their side, and second; Aba was an old woman who needed a considerable amount of help from the two men. They even carried her occasionally when she didn't seem to be able to go on.

Though many times the river was completely out of their sight, they still managed to come within sight of the other search party at least ever hour or so, and they happened to be near the river while Brun and Goov were explaining to Grod that Ayla's death curse had been broken.

Vorn and Droog watched as the men on the other side discussed the matter, while Aba watched Uka and Ovra talk excitedly about the same topic.

Droog was surprised by the conversation on the other side, but also relieved. The "spirit" had made him nervous, and now he didn't have to be. Then he glanced over at Vorn, knowing that Aga's son would have trouble with this knowledge. Vorn had always stayed away from Ayla to gain Broud's favor, and it had paid off; he was Broud's second in command. Now, he would have to refrain from speaking, or the woman would be cursed again. Could Vorn do it? Droog shook his head. He didn't think so.

X

Vorn was torn between being loyal to Broud, their leader, and doing the right thing. He knew that Ayla was a good clan woman, and had only given Broud trouble, but he also knew that Broud hated Ayla. He wanted so badly to stay in Broud's favor, but how could he do it if he refrained from speaking.

Finally, it was Aba's turn to think. She had not always liked the strange girl of the others herself, and many times had wondered why Brun had allowed Iza to keep the child, but she had done a complete about face after the young girl had saved Aga's daughter Ona from drowning all those years ago. After Aba had seen and processed the information, she turned to watch the two men that were walking just in front of her.

Droog was a good man, she thought. He had been very grateful for the life of the daughter of his mate, even though she had been born to another man's hearth. Aba knew that he had even promised Aga that he would name her next daughter Ayla, to honor what she had done. Aba continued to watch the men.

Droog had obviously come to his own conclusions and he was sizing up Vorn. Vorn on the other hand was desperately struggling with the newest piece of information.

Aba sighed, there was nothing she could do. And, it might not even matter…Ayla and Ebra could be dead. They would have to wait and see, but she desperately hoped the two women would still be alive when they found them.

XxX

Chapter Sixteen: Ayla's Idea (originally posted on 3 September, 2003)

When Ayla finally woke up, she was slightly disoriented. She blinked several times at the bright sunlight that shone in her eyes. Then she looked down at herself. Seeing her naked body, she remembered Ebra falling into the river and almost drowning. Ayla jerked bolt upright, upset with herself for sleeping so long.

"Ayla, calm down. I am fine," Ebra gestured reassuringly. "I hurt just a little, but I am fine." Ayla smiled slightly and got up immediately.

"Let me stoke the fire and get you something to eat. I did not mean to sleep so late."

Ebra cocked her head and looked at the younger woman, her clan's medicine woman. She really was a good clan woman, even after everything Broud had done to her. Ebra had never understood what made Ayla do some of the things she did, but she really was a good woman. And,a good medicine woman. She may not be of Iza's line like Uba, but she is definitely good. "Ayla, I'm not hungry. I've already eaten. Just come and sit down."

Ayla stopped what she was doing and looked at Ebra. "Ebra, where are you hurting?"

"My broken leg hurts a bit and my head is sore, but I suspect that I will be fine. You did a fine job. Now we have to wait for them to find us."

Ayla's eye twitched at Ebra's last comment, though she hadn't meant it to. She really didn't want Ebra to start asking questions about being found, and she didn't see how they would be able to make the hike back with Ebra's leg the way it was. Ebra didn't miss the twitch, but decided not to question Ayla just yet. It could have been nothing.

As the day pressed on, Ayla decided she needed to make herself something to wear, but she didn't have anything with her to use, so she started weaving with the grasses that were growing on the beach. It wasn't long before she had made herself a grass skirt. She smiled as she held it up for Ebra to see. "What do you think?"

Ebra looked at it strangely and shrugged her shoulders. Ayla put it on and laughed at her ridiculous outfit.

When the five clan members on the Northern side of the river got up, they signaled to the three on the Southern side. They all agreed to eat first, but no one spoke.

After Uka and Ovra had made a very light morning meal for the three men, they set off down river again. Brun was determined to find his mate, either dead or alive.

Across the river, Vorn led the way, still absorbed with his own dilemma, while Droog helped Aba down a particularly steep path. When they were very close to the bottom, Aba slipped slightly and stumbled into Vorn, causing his thoughts to jolt back to the present. They hadn't traveled much, but he could see that Aba, and Droogwere tired. "Let's stop and rest for a while," he said.

Droog made a fire, so that Aba could make tea, and they rested for a time. As Vorn rested and drank his tea, he wished Ursus would take him, so that he would not have to consider his predicament any longer.

Aba could see her daughter's son's mind working, but what could a woman do, when a man was thinking such things. All she could do was refill his cup.

Ayla, on the other hand, was trying to think of ways to get Ebra back to the clan. "Ebra, let's see if I can carry you on my back. I think we need to try to get ourselves back to the clan."

Ebra shrugged, thinking it might work, but also thinking Ayla wasn't strong enough to carry her.

Ayla heaved the heavy-boned clan woman onto her back, but had only carried her a short distance when she had to put her back down. "I'm just not strong enough, Ebra. I wish I had my large hide, I could probably drag you on that," Ayla gestured almost to herself. Then she frowned. Maybe I could use something else, but what?

Ayla was looking around the rock covered beach. Then she glanced over at the tree line, just twenty or so feet north of them. Then she looked down at her new grass skirt. "I have an idea Ebra," Ayla gesticulated excitedly as she ran off to gather what she needed.

Ebra just stared after her. What does that crazy woman have in her mind now?

XxX

Chapter Seventeen: The Fork (originally posted on 4 September, 2003)

It did not take Ayla long before she had fashioned a mat out of the grasses lying around, which would be large enough for the injured woman to lie on. She had made the outside edges long enough so that she would have something to hold onto. She knew it was crude, but it just might work.

Ebra looked at Ayla's new mat skeptically when the young medicine woman showed it to her and explained what she wanted to do with it. Then Ebra shrugged her shoulders. Ayla always had strange ideas. Why should this new one surprise her?

Ayla laid out the mat and helped the injured woman lie down on it. Then she went around to the longer end, took up the slack and said, "Are you ready?" Ebra grabbed the edges of the mat and nodded.

Ayla started to pull on the mat, which slid somewhat easily on the sandy beach and off they went. However, though easier than carrying Ebra, it was still hard work and Ayla was dripping in sweat after only a short time, but she pushed on.

When Ayla finally decided to stop for the day, and an evening meal, she looked back at the tracks they had made in the sand, wondering what people would think if they saw them. There was no animal that could make sand flat.

Then, as if drawn by her thoughts, three ptarmigan took flight above their trail, and as quick as a wink Ayla had her sling out of the basket she had made and was throwing stones. Two fell from the sky almost instantly, and it only took her a second to down the third.

Ebra looked at her in amazement. "Ayla, I am so grateful that you are as strange as you are." Ayla smiled and went to work on the birds. At least they had some food now. Ayla gathered some wood, started a fire and made their meal.

For Brun and hissearch party the day had been uneventful. They had walked along the beach, which alternated between sandy areas and packed dirt, with the river on their left and a line of brush and trees on their right, scanning the land for the missing women. The men spoke to each other, as the two women trailed behind collecting anything they thought they may need.

When they had gone several hours without seeing Vorn, Droog and Aba, Brun started to get worried. Where could they be, he thought? And then, when they came to a fork in the river, he was beside himself with indecision. Should they turn with the river and go north? Or, though difficult and scary, should they cross the river and continue in the direction they were going? And what about Vorn, Droog and Aba? Where were they?

Goov was the first to make a suggestion. "I think we should go this way," he gestured, indicating that they should follow the river going north. "But first,we should wait here for Vorn and the others, so they know where we are going."

Brun frowned and looked down river in both directions. "Yes, they can continue that way," he said pointing west, "while we head down the other river." He nodded and looked at Grod. "Do you have anything to add, Grod?"

Grod also looked down both rivers, then shook his head. The women put their packs down and offered food and drink to the men.

On the other side, Vorn, Droog and Aba didn't rest long. They knew they needed to keep up with Brun, and so, moved on as quickly as they could. When they finally arrived back at the river, it was nearing darkness. Brun signaled the plan to the others, and they decided to camp there for the night.

Ayla and Ebra ate, talking mostly about superficial things. Ayla expressed her worry for her son, but Ebra reminded her that Durc would be fine with Uba. And Ebra worried that Aba didn't make it across the river. Both were frightened, but Ebra trusted Ayla, and Ayla fought hard to be strong for Ebra. Neither wanted to talk about what they would do if they never found their clan, but both of them were thinking about it and the tension was thick.

XxX

Chapter Eighteen: The Shelter (originally posted on 5 September, 2003)

The next morning, the search parties woke early, wanting to get moving right away. Brun told Vorn and Droog to search for only four moons, and then return to this spot. It was pointless to continue the search after that. If they didn't find them by then, he would accept that Ebra was gone.

"Walk with Ursus," they each signed to the other, and turned and walked away.

Brun took his party and went north, heading away from the lost women, while Vorn took his party westward, heading directly for the women. Unfortunately, due to topography, Vorn's group had to leave the river's edge just before coming to Ayla and Ebra's campsite, and they went right by the two women without even seeing them.

Ayla and Ebra awoke early as well, but they did not leave right away. Ayla thought she needed to look at and wash Ebra's wounds again.

"Ebra, your head looks very good. You are still very bruised, but it is healing nicely. I am going to wash it, then I would like to leave the bandages off for a little while so your wound can get some air." Ebra gave the medicine woman a look that would have been a smile if she were capable of one. Ayla returned the older woman's look of affection, then took all the strips of leather over to the river to wash them out. After scrubbing them clean, she brought them back and laid them on the mat to dry.

Then the medicine woman turned toward Ebra's bound leg. "Now I am going to loosen the bandages around your leg. It seems to have swelled a bit, but that is normal for a break. It will go down in a day or so." Ayla worked quickly, knowing what she was doing wasn't comfortable for the woman, and Ebra gritted her teeth in discomfort.

After working on her patient, Ayla threw sand on their fire, packed up the few things they had, adjusted Ebra on the mat and prepared herself to drag it for as long as she could.

After about an hour, Ayla was exhausted and had to stop. The two women just sat there thinking, Ebra on her mat, Ayla on the sand. Ebra was wishing that she could help Ayla and Ayla kept thinking to herself that there must be a better way to do this. As they sat there, a breeze blew sand all over the two women. Ayla wanted to get clean, so she decided to go for a swim, and excused herself.

Ebra looked at her like she was crazy, but noticed that Ayla was filthy. She had been working and sweating for three moons, and now she was sandy too.

Ayla dived into the river, not at all worried about the current. She was more than a capable swimmer, and this part of the river didn't seem to be that bad. Ebra nervously watched from the beach, wishing Ayla wouldn't go out so far, but knowing that the younger woman really did enjoy being in the water.

Ayla swam around, considering what they should do. They weren't getting very far with her pulling Ebra around on the mat, and she was tiring herself out. That could be very dangerous if she needed her strength for something. What if an animal attacks us? Ayla thought. I won't be of much use to Ebra if I am tired, and Ebra will die for sure if I die.

Maybe they needed to do something else. Maybe they should stay put and wait for the clan to find them. If they were going to do that, then she had some work to do. They couldn't just keep sleeping out by a fire every night. They needed a shelter. Ayla looked around the beach, but the only things she saw were the same things that she had seen all along. Could she make a shelter out of grass like she had a skirt and a mat? Well, she thought, I will just have to.

When she got out of the water, Ayla told Ebra that she thought they'd be better off it they stay put for a while, and that maybe the clan would find them. Ebra didn't dispute that they weren't getting very far. She agreed that they should stay where they were, at least for a few days.

Ayla had a plan in her head, and she went right to work on a shelter. She went to the tree line, and found several fallen tree branches that she was able to carry back to the beach. Then she sat down and stripped the leaves off the branches, leaving one end that forked into two branches and set all but two of them aside.

Then, Ayla began digging in the sand. When she had a hole that was about three feet deep, she stopped, picked up one of the branches and shoved it into the hole in the sand. Ayla then pushed all the sand back into the hole so that the branch was standing about five feet above ground when she was finished. When she was satisfied that it would not fall down, she dug another hole about six feet away from the first and repeated the process. When that was complete, Ayla placed yet a third branch on top of the other two, this time choosing a very sturdy one. Then finally, she took a few branches and leaned them up against the top branch so that she had an A-frame type shelter, and used grass to tie them all in place. The wood frame was quite sturdy.

Now, she thought, it's time to make mats. This would be the easy part. It would take quite a while, but she could sit and relax, and Ebra could help her. Ayla set out to gather grasses and returned with an armload. There was definitely plenty of grass in the area, thatwas for sure.

By the time the sun was at its highest, Ayla and Ebra had made significant progress. Ebra still couldn't see what Ayla was planning to do with the mats, but she had nothing else to do, so she continued weaving and talking with Ayla, just to keep busy. Ayla finished hers first, so she picked it up. She had made it very large, about six and half feet tall by seven feet long. When she brought it over to the frame, Ebra finally saw what the woman was doing. "Ayla, what made you think of that? What an interesting idea."

Ayla shrugged, "I don't know. I've been making everything out of grass, why not a shelter?" Ebra nodded. It was definitely good thinking. Ayla sure was good to have around.

The two search parties continued in their own directions, neither finding a thing. With each step, Brun was becoming more and more aware that it wasn't likely they would find Ebra, and his heart was extremely heavy.

XxX

Chapter Nineteen: The Path (originally posted on 6 September, 2003)

Ebra and Ayla worked together on their new shelter for several hours. When finally it was lashed together tightly, the two women stood back to admire their handy work. They had covered the other side, just as Ayla had the first. Then they worked on the ends, which were a little more difficult since they were triangular in shape, and finally they made a mat for ground covering. Ebra's current mat would be used outside the new shelter.

Ayla decided to make a fire pit in the sand that they could use for cooking and for heat, and went to work on a meal. The ptarmigan, which was already cooked, would feed them for a few days, but Ayla wanted more than just meat and tea, so she went out with her basket to gather greens. She didn't find much, as she didn't want to go too far away from Ebra, and returned with next to nothing.

Coming upriver, in a generally southeastern direction, was another small band of travelers, three men, two women, four children and one baby. They too had suffered loss in the devastating and far-reaching earthquake, but they did not only lose their Mog-ur and their cave, they had lost everyonethat had been in the cave during the wrenching of the earth, twenty-eight members in all.

To most other clans they would have been considered strange, they had had quite a mixture of people, clan people, mixed people and even a few of the others. It wasn't much different now, they were just fewer in numbers.

But,the make up of their clan was not their only oddity; they were also rather progressive, as some members had obviously been exposed to the others. However, despite their progressivism, the thought of finding another clan was rather frightening to them. They had always been a united group and they did not want to change that aspect of their make up. That was why they did not live near any other clan. That was why they had never ventured out until now.

For weeks they had stayed around the cave that had been their home for many seasons. Indecision had gripped them, as they discussed their options, but they all knew that this great tragedy was not just an opening to search for a new cave to live in, but also to seek out another clan as well. Ten members was too small a number of people to survive for long, especially with only five adults.

The travelers had chosen to go upriver, because their cave had been located very close to a large body of water, which they knew to be near the end of the river and no other clan. The only way they had hope of finding more people was to go upriver. And they were very nervous at the thought of finding more people, even though they knew that was what they needed.

As the small clan came around the tree line and rounded a bend in the river, they came to a place on the beach where there was a strip of flat sand.

"It seems to be a path of some sort," Dorg gestured to the rest. He was not speaking to just the men, but to all that were with him.

Another man came up beside him, carrying a young girl of three years. "Eka," he said. "Take Ada, so I can go investigate."

The woman Eka, who had been standing right next to him bearing another three year old on her hip, took the hand of Ada.

"Aka want Ada," the child in her arms gestured reaching for her sister. Eka put her down, but let them both away from the men.

After Daub had handed the child to her mother, he went to join his brother at the flat path. Another man had come up beside them, a mixed man. "Dorg, what do you suppose it is," the mixed man asked while fumbling with something under his rather large wrap? "I have never seen the sand so flat and straight."

Another woman came up to them. She waited to be acknowledged, but she did not kneel on the ground in front of the men, nor did she look at the ground demurely. The mixed man quickly gestured, "What is it Uga?"

"Grov, Ora needs to nurse. Let me take her while you are busy." The man looked down at the one year old child he held, then handed her to Uga with a grunt of gratitude.

Uga took the child from Grov, collected the other two boys that were standing with the men and sat down by Eka to nurse.

For Ayla and Ebra the day had gone slow. They now had a place to get out of the wind, when it decided to blow, and they had enough food for a short time. Ayla would hunt again the next day. She had seen deer beyond the tree line, and they needed things that a deer could provide.

In the evening, she checked Ebra's wounds again. She was looking much better. Her bruises were turning brownish and the swelling in her broken leg was down. Maybe I could make her a walking stick soon, just like Creb had used, Ayla thought to herself. I could support her on one side and the stick could help on the other. That would definitely get us back to the clan faster.

But, why do I want to get back to the clan? They will just not see me again, and I will be alone. Sadly, Ayla sighed, knowing she had to get Ebra back. She did want to see Durc. At least her son would see her.

When the sun began to set, the two search parties stopped for the night. All in Brun's party, except Brun, went to sleep right away. He sat up drinking his tea and worrying, but still maintaining his stoic dignity.

Vorn, Droog and Aba didn't make it back to the river for the night. They just nestled into the pine needles that had fallen on the ground under the trees. Vorn's thoughts were weighing heavy on him as well, but he drifted off to sleep rather easily. It was more escape than rest, but it was welcome.

New Character List:

Dorg (20) – toolmaker
Ala (quake death) – Dorg's deceased mate, was 17, (mixed woman)
-~-Vorg (7) – mixed child

Daub (17) – Dorg's brother
Eka (15) – Daub's mate, daughter of the mate of the deceased second in command
-~-Ada and Aka (3) – Eka's twins

Dreg (quake death) – Daub's deceased twin brother
Uga (16) – daughter of the mate of the deceased leader
-~-Breg (5) – Uga's son
-~-Ega (quake death) – Uga's deceased 2 year old

Grov (16) – mixed man, master hunter
Nora (quake death) – woman of the others, was 18 years old
-~-Ora (1) – Nora's daughter

XxX

Chapter Twenty: The Encounter (originally posted on 6 September, 2003)

The small clan had camped on the beach next to the flat path, and awoke ready to move on and find out what had made it. This clan loved to investigate new things.

Each person collected their small amount of belongings and their perspective child or children. Only the three girls were carried, as they were very young. The two boys ran ahead to see what they could see, but never left the sight of their people. When the two boys came to a bend in the river, which limited sight, they stopped and waited for everyone to catch up.

"I'll race you to the next bend," Vorg challenged, and took off before the other boy could even reply. Breg started off the next second, but Vorg was a faster runner since he had straighter legs like his mixed mother had.

When Breg finally caught up to Vorg, he put his hands on his knees, breathing extremely hard and took several deep breaths. "Vorg, you know that's not fair, you are mixed, you are older than me andyou took off without notice."

Vorg smiled at the other boy, a trait that he had from his mother. This clan knew a smile was something the others did when they were amused by something. "I'm sorry Breg. I was just having fun." Breg couldn't smile, but gave the other boy a look that told him he wasn't upset, and they turned to go on.

However, before they could even take a step, they had to stop. About fifty yards in front of them there was a fire going in the sand and a shelter of some sort. They didn't see any people, but they knew that where there was fire, there had to be people.

The group of adults behind them was immediately aware that the boys had discovered something. Just their stance told them that, and they could tell that they were about to encounter people.

Ayla and Ebra had slept relatively late that morning. The grass mat shelter kept out a lot of the light, which allowed them to sleep longer than they would have if they were sleeping out in the open. Not to mention that there was no one else rustling around, waking them early.

Ayla had gone out once to relieve herself and start the morning fire for tea, but then she had gone back in to lie down in the warm shelter and wait for the water over the fire to boil.

Ebra opened her eyes when Ayla came back in, and motioned a good morning to Ayla. Ayla smiled. "Ebra, you look better every day. Are you in any pain this morning?"

Ebra grunted, "Not from my injuries, but my back is a little achy."

Ayla smile again, "Well then, let me go get you a walking stick and we'll get you out of here," she gestured.

Dorg, Daub and Uga ran forward this time, leaving Eka and Grov to bring up the rear with the children. The youngest ones were their responsibility, they had no problem with staying in the back.

"A single tent," Dorg motioned back to them. "I don't see anyone, but there is a fire."

The other two adults came up next to their clan mates and watched. Then, the shelter flap moved and a blond woman emerged. "Dorg, she is one of the others, just like Nora," Grov gestured.

Ayla did not look around the area, nor did she notice that they were being watched, so intent was she on her task of getting Ebra a walking stick. She went straight to her pile of branches, broke one off and striped it. Then she leaned it against the outside of the shelter and went back inside.

The small group watched quietly, while she did this. Then, when the flap moved again the woman was assisting another woman, a clan woman.

Ayla helped Ebra to sit down on the mat and tried to make her comfortable, but stopped when the woman stiffened. "Ebra, what is it?"

Ebra did not gesture a word, but she pointed to something behind Ayla. Ayla turned around quickly and her mouth dropped open. She counted the people that were standing at the bend in the river staring at them by drawing a line in the sand for each person she counted, then she placed her fingers on the marks; almost two hands of people. And, at least two of them were mixed, Ayla observed as she squinted at them in the distance, trying to see them better. Where had they come from, she wondered? And what do they want?

XxX

Chapter Twenty (continued), (originally posted on 6 September, 2003)

Dorg could see the fear in the women on the beach, and didn't want to frighten them, but he didn't know what to do. Then he had an idea. "Eka and Uka, you two should go talk to them. That way they will not be afraid." Eka put Ada down and the women set off across the beach.

Ayla and Ebra watched the group talking, but they didn't understand their everyday language. Then, when two women started to approach them, Ayla stood up in front of Ebra.

Eka and Uka exchanged a glance, but continued on. When they got within about ten feet of the campsite, one of the women made a gesture and said, "Uga."

Ayla didn't understand the gesture, but knew that the woman must have said her name. Ayla gestured in the ancient formal language, "I am called Ayla," she said tapping her chest. "This is Ebra," she said stepping aside and pointing at Ebra.

The other woman stepped up and also using the formal language said, "I am Eka. We have been traveling since the movement of the earth. We are looking for another clan that will take us in. We have lost all except for what you see behind us."

Ayla could see the pain in the women's eyes. "We too have been traveling since the earthquake. Our clan lived quite a distance to the west. We only lost one man in the quake, but our cave was destroyed. We were looking for a new cave as well, but Ebra fell into the river and we got separated from our clan. Ebra has a broken leg so we cannot travel so well right now, but I am one of our clan's medicine women and I have set the break. We will start traveling as soon as Ebra is able. Would you like some tea?"

Eka and Uga accepted the offer, but asked if the others could join them. Ayla didn't understand why the men had stayed behind, but nodded all the same. She was even more confused when Eka gestured "Come!" It seemed more demanding than Ayla was used to women using, but the group approached and the men obviously hadn't taken offense.

Ayla fixed tea for the new people. They had each given her a woven cup. When she had it ready, she went to Dorg first, as he seemed to be the leader, and kneeled on the ground in front of him waiting for him to tap her shoulder.

Dorg knew that this was the way of most clans, even though it had not been the way of his for many seasons. Having mixed people and others living among them had changed their ways significantly. He leaned forward and tapped her shoulder. When Ayla looked up, he took the tea saying, "This man is grateful for the tea."

Ayla was shocked, no man had ever thanked her for doing her duty. "This woman is called Ayla, and I am glad to meet you. This is Ebra."

Then, another man came forward, but when Ayla looked down at the ground again, he knelt down next to her and raised her chin up so that he could look directly into her eyes. "Your eyes are blue," he gestured. "Just like mine, and my mate's daughter." With that, he pulled the small child over for Ayla to see. "This is Ora," he said putting the child in Ayla's arms.

Ayla was shocked by the way this man was touching her, but she was absolutely stunned when he put the child in her arms. Then,when she looked down at the child, she gasped. The little girl looked almost identical to herself. She was one of the others.

Ayla forgot herself and asked, "How does a mixed man, living with a clan, come to have a child of the others?"

Grov smiled, which was further shock, but his smile faded quickly as he gestured, "I am Grov, and my mate was one of the others, but she is gone now. She died in the quake. We were mated for four years, before Ora was born to my hearth. She is the daughter of my heart, as well as my hearth.

Ayla could see his pain and she had tears in her eyes. She looked around at all the new people standing or sitting around. Ebra was looking at these people approvingly and nodded at Ayla. Ayla looked back at the people and gestured, "We welcome you to our camp."

XxX

Chapter Twenty-One: Storytelling (originally posted on 6 September, 2003)

Ebra and Ayla were delighted that they were no longer alone. Ebra wished she could get up to serve the men with Ayla. She didn't want them to think she was not a good clan woman, but she couldn't get up yet. Ayla could tell that these people were very different from their clan, and she secretly wondered if they could ever fit in with Broud's clan. Broud was going to resent these mixed people greatly, but Ayla's heart went out to Ora, who he would despise.

The two groups spent the day telling each other about themselves. Dorg was their clan's toolmaker. He showed them some of their tools and even Ebra looked impressed. Droog would be very interested to learn Dorg's techniques. And they learned that Dorg's mate, Ala, had been mixed, and that she had had reddish colored hair. That would explain why Vorg's hair was brown with a red hint to it, Ayla thought. And Vorg must have been started by Dorg, she observed. Though the child is mixed, he has the older man's eyes and general shape of face.

Daub was Dorg's younger brother and he was mated to Eka, who was the daughter of the mate of the second in command, before the earthquake had taken them. Eka held up her twin daughters and explained that Ada was born first, then Aka. The twins were adorable. Both brown haired, but a much lighter brown than the people of Broud's clan. And their eyes were a very light hazel color. Ayla noticed that every one of them had light hazel eyes, except for Grov and Ora, who had eyes the color of the sky.

After Daub told about his hearth, Uga gestured that she had been mated to Daub's older twin brother, but that he had died in the earthquake, along with her youngest child, Ega. She said that she was the daughter of the mate of the leader, who had also perished. "Breg is all I have left now," she gestured sadly. "And you already know Grov and Ora. He is our master hunter, as his mate Nora used to say."

Ayla had tears in her eyes for their loss. Ebra had a deep frown on her face. They had definitely lost a lot. Much more than they.

XxX

Chapter Twenty-Two: More Storytelling (originally posted on 6 September, 2003)

The new group set up their shelters in a circle around Ayla's fire. Ayla was going to gather wood for the night, but Vorg and Breg told her they would do it and ran off to do the chore. Ayla was pleased that she wouldn't have to do it, and smiled at the retreating backs of the boys, wishing her son was there as well.

As they unpacked their belongings, Ayla stared at all they had brought. She couldn't believe that they could carry so much, they hadn't appeared to be so heavily burdened, but then, the men were carrying heavy loads as well. This clan worked together better than Broud's clan, she thought.

Uga was aware that Ayla, and even Ebra though surreptitiously, were watching them. She was also aware that they didn't seem to have much. Their shelter was interesting, but that was about it. When she was finished with her work, she came over to where Ebra was sitting and gestured that they had plenty of hides and gave one to the two women to sleep with.

When the group was finished, they gathered at the fire again. Ayla had worked along side Eka and Uga making the evening meal, and she was very interested in their ways of cooking food, but when they had finished, the women gestured to the men that they were finished and the men simply came up and took what they wanted. Ayla glanced at Ebra, who shrugged her shoulders, then went to prepare their own bowls of food.

After the meal, the other clan wanted to know more about Broud's clan. Earlier, Ayla had only told them how Ebra and she had come to be where they all are now, but she had not told them much else. She dreaded telling them about the death curse that hung over her, but she also knew they could not avoid the topic forever.

"Broud is my son," Ebra motioned, "and he has only been leader for a short time, since just before the earthquake. Before him, the leader was my mate." Ebra looked at Ayla, and then down at the ground. She did not want to speak ill of her son, but she knew he was not fit to lead. Ayla had never liked Broud, but she had her own son and knew it would be extremely hard for her to acknowledge hisfaults.

Ayla looked at the other people, deciding that she should tell them, since it all seemed to be due to her. She started with how the clan had found her, and how Iza, the first ranked medicine woman had adopted her. She talked about Creb, the wise Mog-ur that was known by many clans as Mog-ur One Eye. Ayla saw some stirrings of knowledge when she mentioned the man of her hearth. Then she told of her cave lion totem, teaching herself to hunt and her limited death curse. It was there that she paused, just to see what their reaction was, but there was not reaction at all. Then she moved on to how badly Broud mistreated her, but that she had sometimes defied him on purpose. She blushed at this, expecting one of the men to chastise her, but they did not. Then she told of her son, Durc, and how everyone thought he was weak and deformed when he was born, but how he had thrived and grew. "He is my sunshine," Ayla told them with an unfocused smile on her face. Then she told them of the clan gathering and how she found a mixed baby girl named Ura there that was now promised for her son.

And finally, she told of the changing of the leaders ceremony that had occurred, and about the changes to the hearths within their cave. "I tell you all this so that you may understand me. I know I don't behave correctly for a woman, but I don't know why Broud decided to make me his second woman, he never did like me, but he did it anyway. But the part I never really understood was how he could give my son to another woman, and how he could take away The Mog-ur's hearth."

Ayla was crying as she spoke. She could not stop herself, and these people had obviously seen tears before. She continued. "When he took away Creb's hearth, I could not hold my tongue. I yelled his name and told him what I thought." It was here that Ayla paused again, looking at these new people. "It was then that he cursed me with death."

Ayla stopped there, preparing for them to close their eyes to her. Ebra was watching them too.

"Tell me Ebra," Dorg said, "Are you 'dead' too?"

Ebra shook her head. "I have not been death cursed."

"Then why is it that you are acknowledging a 'spirit'."

"This woman does not believe Ayla is a spirit. This woman doesn't think a spirit would save someone's life. Ayla has always been a good clan woman. She only falters where my son is concerned. She does things that are not clan, but she is not really clan. This woman believes she brings luck to our clan." Ayla smiled with gratitude.

Grov was the next man to speak. "Ayla, we know it is the clan way to curse those that do not follow the clan way, but we believe death curses are too dangerous to the clan as a whole, and," he said with a look around at the group, "we do not think a spirit could have saved the life of a drowning clan woman."

Ayla was stunned. They did not close their eyes to her. They were actually going to ignore the custom. When the realization hit her, she began to cry anew.

Brun's search party was making good time in their northward trek. The land had been almost straight, relatively flat and there had been no obstacles to slow them down. They had covered a great distance. They didn't know it yet, but they were almost to the end of the river. It would end shortly, but they still had found no sign of the two women. Brun hoped that Vorn was having better luck.

Vorn's search party had reached the river again at nightfall on the second of four moons. They could not see it yet, but they were just across the river from the flat sand path, and numerous footprints from the other clan—but that would have to be discovered the next morning.

It had been five moons since the two search parties had left Broud where they had crossed the river. He was still fuming that the mate of his mother could take the side of a spirit before the son of his mate, but he was trying to consol himself with thoughts that the death of his mother would at least be the end of the spirit as well.

He had had the clan set up four of their shelters. One for himself, and Oga and her boys. One for Borg and Ona, and her mother Aga and Aga's other son Groob. One for Crug, Ika, Igra and Dorv. And one for the old man Zoug, Uba and the deformed son of the spirit.

Broud hoped Brun and the others returned soon, but started discussing plans to leave if they didn't. They still needed to find a cave. However, this is where he met strong resistance. No one was willing to leave his or her family.

XxX

Chapter Twenty-Three: Grov's Joke (originally posted on 7 September, 2003)

Morning dawned brightly as the sun shined off the river. Aba rose before the two men, and got up to make a meal. She first stoked the fire, which had burned well the entire night, and then, grabbing a basket, she went to get some water from the river.

Aba only took a few steps into the river, as she had always been afraid of the water, and dipped her basket in. When it had the amount of water she thought was necessary for her purposes, she stood up and turned to walk back to the beach. Suddenly, her eye was caught by something on the other side of the river. She looked across at the sand, which had a different look. Then, she looked down river and noticed that the sand looked the way it usually did. Then, squinting into the rising sun, she looked up river. The strangeness began directly across from where she stood and it went up river. Another thing that was odd was that the sand right next to the flat sand seemed to be more disturbed than usual. Aba decided that this was something the men should see, and went to wake them.

"Vorn," the old woman said shaking the young man gently. Vorn groaned and opened his eyes slightly.

She then went to Droog and called his name, "Droog." He too opened his eyes. Then, Aba just sat there, eyes looking at the ground, waiting to be acknowledged.

Droog looked over at Vorn, who had closed his eyes again, then he sat up and tapped Aba's shoulder. "What is it Aba?"

"This woman was getting water from the river to make a meal, but when I looked across the river, I noticed that the sand looks strange. I wanted you to see it."

Droog sighed, "Okay Aba, I will come look at it."

Droog got up immediately and went over to Vorn. "Vorn, we need to see what's on the other side of the river."

Vorn got up as well and they went to investigate. "How do you suppose the sand over there comes to be so flat, and why is it disturbed on the edge?"

Droog was thinking about the unusual path, and thought that maybe Ebra and Ayla had survived and passed through there. Maybe the disturbed sand was their doing. It was the first clue they had had on their search. When Droog told the younger man what he was thinking, Vorn went on, "I guess we should try to walk up river on the beach. We won't be able to see anything if we go back the way we came.

"Aba, forget the meal. We will drink cold tea as we walk."

When Ayla got up that morning and left her shelter, she stared at the sight of the other clan's tents around her fire, forgetting for a moment that she and Ebra were not alone any longer. Grov was sitting there, drinking his tea, with Ora at his feet. Ayla didn't want to stare, but a man taking care of a child seemed odd to her.

When Ora saw Ayla come out, she pulled herself up, toddled over to her and signed, "Mother."

Ayla smiled, signing back, "Good morning, Ora." When the one year old reached her, she picked her up and tickled her. Ora broke into giggles, which made Ayla laugh and Grov smile.

Just then, Uga emerged from her tent and Ora struggled to get down. She knew who offered a breast and it wasn't Ayla. Ayla scooped up a cup of tea for herself and sat on the mat by the fire. It seemed so strange to not be scurrying around serving the men.

When she looked up, she noticed that Grov was staring at her, and thought that maybe she had done something wrong. She decided that maybe he wanted a fresh cup of tea and got up quickly, got more tea and then sat at his feet and waited for him to acknowledge her.

Grov knew what she was doing and smiled. He tapped her shoulder and said, "Ayla, you don't have to do that. We are not so formal."

"This woman thought you might want another cup of tea. And Grov, if you are going to live with our clan, it might help to act more clan like." Ayla hoped that she hadn't gone too far. Technically, she had just told a man what he should do, but she didn't want this new clan to offend Broud and not be permitted to stay. Chances are though, she thought, it probably doesn't matter, Broud is not going to like them no matter what.

"You might be right," he said. "Maybe I should cuff you for telling a man what to do then."

Ayla looked into the man's eyes and knew he was saying words he did not mean, and it confused her. This was her first experience with a real joke and she didn't know what to say or do. She only blushed and looked down, but when he laughed, she looked up again. "Ayla, I am not going to cuff you. I understand what you are saying."

When everyone else started to rise, Ayla went back into her shelter to get Ebra. She examined the woman's leg again saying, "Ebra, you are healing well. You will be on your feet in no time." The woman was happy about the news. She was getting restless from all the sitting around she was doing.

XxX

Chapter Twenty-Four: Rocky River (originally posted on 9 September, 2003)

Vorn, Droog and Aba were having a much easier time walking on the sandy beach, than they had walking up and down hills, and through trees and brush. Vorn walked in front while Droog stayed back to help Aba when necessary. The three walked for what seemed like forever to Aba, when Vorn stopped and motioned for them to stop.

"Look Droog," Vorn said pointing to something about fifty yards ahead of them on the other side of the river, "There's a camp down there, but I cannot see beyond the shelters."

Droog came up beside Vorn and looked as well. "That camp is too big, I count one hand of shelters, but maybe they have seen Ebra and Ayla."

Vorn's sharp intake of breath at Ayla's name told Droog that the son of his mate was still struggling with the situation, but they didn't have time for contemplating the problem and started for the area across the river from the camp ahead.

When they arrived at the camp, they still could not see much. The people on the other side had arranged their shelters in a horseshoe shape, with their fire in the middle, but had faced themselves away from the river. It was not intentional, it just happened that way.

However, there was no mistaking the tall, blond woman that stood up and started to walk past a break in the line of shelters, toward what must be her own.

"AYLA!" Droog called over the running sound of the river, and the medicine woman's head jerked up immediately.

"Ebra, it's Droog and Vorn," she said looking through the shelters at the two men. "And, I see Aba too. They are on the other side of the river, and they are calling out to me." Ayla forgot what she had been doing, and ran to the river. She couldn't believe they were really standing there, andthey were talking to her.

On the other side, the two men were trying to figure out how they could cross. The river was moving much slower at this point, but it had gotten rather deep. There were many large rocks haphazardly situated in the river, but they appeared to be rather close. They could possibly be of use, but how would they get Aba across?

While they were discussing the matter, the people that were with Ayla came into view, three men, two women and one boy. Aba's intake of breath caused the Vorn and Droog to look up again. Vorn signaled a greeting in the ancient language, but didn't know what else to do. Droog also signaled a greeting.

Dorg looked across and knew the problem. "Grov, Daub, we need to help them. We can climb out on the rocks. That old woman will need help."

Ayla watched Dorg, she wanted to help, but didn't want to be in the way. She decided ask, and walking over to him, she gracefully dropped to the ground and waited to be acknowledged.

Dorg didn't even hesitate. He just tapped Ayla's shoulder. This is going to be very difficult for the women of my clan to get used to again, he thought. They have not lived the way most clans do for many years. In fact, he considered, thinking back, we were all children when that tradition was stopped.

"Dorg, this woman would like to swim across to help Aba, if that is acceptable to you." Dorg nodded, and she took off for the river.

The three men had been speaking in their everyday language, but Vorn and Droog had gotten the gist of the conversation, especially after Ayla spoke to them, but Aba had only seen "climb out on the rocks," and she looked away with a terrified expression on her face, and crumpled to the ground in front of Droog, gesturing, "Droog, just leave me here. I cannot cross the river."

Droog looked down at the old woman, who had never shown such a fear before. "Aba, get up. I will not leave you here. If we did, you'd die for sure. We will help you get across, and so will Ayla and the other people."

Aba got up, not looking any better, just as Ayla arrived on their side. It had not taken Ayla very long to cross, because the river was not that wide. She went to Vorn and dropped to the ground. Vorn just stood there. He did not want to acknowledge the woman, even though he knew she was no longer dead. What would Broud say?

Droog watched in frustration and signed, "Vorn, you can to talk to her. Broud may choose to curse her again, but right now she it not dead."

Vorn thought about it some more, and then tapped the woman's shoulder. Ayla's breath exploded, she hadn't known she had been holding it. "This woman is grateful that the second in command has arrived. Ebra is on the other side. She has a broken leg and a bruised head, but she is going to be all right. Is the rest of the clan near?"

Vorn looked at the woman that Broud hated with a passion. She wasn't thatterrible. She was definitely ugly, but not a bad woman. Was being Broud's second in command that important to him? It always had been. Why was he feeling differently about it now?

"We need to get Aba across the river," was all he said to her.

Then, forgetting her question, Ayla went to Aba and tried to reassure her. "Aba, Dorg, Daub and Grov will help you. See how they are each standing on a rock?" The old woman nodded. "Vorn and Droog will do the same on this side, and I will go from rock to rock with you. They will all be there to help us. Let's go."

Taking a deep breath, Aba nodded again. Ayla did exactly what she said she would, and all the men did their part as well. It did not even take five minutes to get the old woman across. When they got to the other side, she looked back relieved that it was over, but also happy that she could still do it.

Ayla introduced Aba to Eka and Uga, then took her over to Ebra. Ebra was beside herself to see the other woman. She had been beginning to think she would never see her clan again.

The men, on the other hand, exchanged greetings with one another. Grov hung back somewhat, knowing what most clans thought of mixed people. I am not deformed, he thought defiantly. He continued to watch.

Vorn's high status in Ayla's clan was obvious and he did not want to offend, but Dorg would not let him forget his own status and signaled him forward. After all, he wastheir master hunter.

The morning had been a rather easy trek for Brun's party. They had come to the end of the river after just one hour of walking. The river had gotten smaller and smaller with each step, until it became just a small stream.

Brun had called a meeting with Goov and Grod to discuss the situation. All had agreed to turn around. There was no way Ebra and Ayla had come down this fork, and Brun was feeling very lost. Just before they had set off again, Brun grabbed his amulet and sent a silent plea to his totem to bring Ebra back to him.

Goov and Grod watched their former leader with sympathy, both looking back at their women. Neither knew what they'd do if they lost their mates.

Grod continued to think about Uka. He had spent many years mated to her, and she had produced two children for him. True, one had died in the first quake long ago, but Uka still had Ovra. And now, Ovra was grown and mated to Goov.

Goov too was considering the loss of his mate. Ovra still hadn't brought a child to their hearth, but he really cared for her, and wouldn't even consider taking a second woman. If Ovra never had a child it would be hard, but he truly cared for the woman of his hearth, and considered himself lucky to be mated to her.

XxX

Chapter Twenty-Five: Grov's Introduction (originally posted on 11 September, 2003)

Even though Vorn had an aversion to Ayla, only because of Broud, he did not however feel the same way about her son, Durc, who spent a considerable amount of time at his hearth with Uba. Everyone loved that child, except Broud, which made the introduction of a mixed man much easier.

Vorn could tell the man, Grov, was holding back, but he could see the high esteem in which he was held when their leader, Dorg, brought him forward for a formal introduction.

It was obvious that Dorg was struggling with wording when he introduced the mixed man, "The man is Grov. He was our cave's first ranked hunter."

Vorn watched the mixed man, and said, "I am Vorn, our clan's second in command. We are grateful that you have cared for the mate of our former leader, he will be glad to know she is still living."

Grov didn't know what to say. They hadn't cared for anyone. They had just stumbled onto the two women, who seemed to be caring for themselves just fine. And, was he going to ignore the fact that the woman, Ayla, was there too and perfectly capable of taking care of herself and the other woman, and had done so? But,he said nothing. Ayla had warned him that, like most other clans, her clan did not allow women, with the exception of her hunting with a sling, to do anything that was a man's job, and they would frown on him for acknowledging her abilities.

When the introductions were done, the three newcomers were invited to Ayla's fire for tea. Vorn didn't miss that Dorg had said "Ayla's fire." Ayla and Aba exchanged a glance, but nothing was said.

XxX

* Please note - Apparently I stopped numbering my chapters here...sorry!

The Broken Spear (originally posted on 11 September, 2003)

Ayla scurried around getting the men some tea wondering what had changed with the clan and her death curse, because something had most definitely changed. Ayla was afraid to ask and figured she would be told soon enough, but she couldn't get herself to calm down now that Aba was safely across the river and she had the time to think.

The men's conversation went from the earthquake and the loss of their caves and clan members, to Dorg's clan's wishing to join another clan, and then of course to hunting, as it always did.

The women were sitting together talking about what to make for the afternoon meal, but Ayla was having a hard time concentrating. She was alternating between listening to their conversation, watching the men and thinking about her death curse. She was dying to know what was going on. When she couldn't take it anymore, she turned to Aba.

"Aba, this woman would like to know why you are acknowledging a spirit."

Aba looked embarrassed as she gestured, "We were searching for Ebra on this side of the river, and Brun was on the other side searching as well, and we saw him tell Grod and Goov that the bones are no longer set. This woman didn't mean to see, but I couldn't look away."

Ayla nodded, understanding that she was not a spirit to them anymore, and she smiled. Then her mind went back to the day after the earthquake, when Brun and Goov had buried Creb in the cave. They had seen her that day, she just knew they had. Why hadn't they spoken to her then? What was different now?

Grov was talking with the men, but only half paying attention to them, minding Ora and watching Ayla all at the same time, when the child toddled over to Vorn and grabbed his spear. Droog looked angry, but it was Vorn who jumped up immediately, and turned toward the women gesticulating angrily, "Ayla, come get this child! She does not belong with the men."

He was turning back to break the spear in half, but before he could grab it, Dorg picked it up, snapped it in two and gestured that he would make Vorn a new one. Grov only turned toward the bewildered child, picked her up and carried her over to Ayla. Ayla took her immediately and hugged her, smiling sheepishly at Grov, knowing exactly how the child was feeling.

Uga came over to Ayla and Grov. "I will feed her, she needs to nurse anyway," she said taking the child and putting her to her breast.

After that, Grov didn't have much interest in listening to the younger man speak, but he went back over to where they were sitting, not wanting to offend by staying with the women. This clan is going to be very difficult to get used to, he thought.

After their meal, the men discussed the topic of the search once again, and Vorn decided that he should return to the fork in the river. Brun's search party could reach the meeting place any time from that evening to two or three moons later, and he wanted to be there to tell him Ebra was safe, and that they had found another small clan, who wanted to join them.

Droog requested to stay at the campsite, as he wanted to discuss tool making with Dorg. It was not often that he had a chance to talk about what he was most proficient at with another man of his caliber.

Aba would go with Vorn, so that he would have a woman to cook for him should it take a few days for Brun to return to the fork. They started out when the sun was midway between being directly overhead and the horizon.

Brun wanted to get back to the fork quickly, and pushed hard the whole day. They managed to travel the same distance in just one day that they had in the two previous days. By nightfall, they arrived and set up camp swiftly.

He hadn't really expected Vorn, Droog and Aba to be back yet, but he had hoped they would be. Grod and Goov exchanged a look. They could see that he was very disappointed.

"Brun, there's still a chance," Grod gestured.

"Yes Brun, and I have asked the spirits to guide and protect Ebra and Ayla. We must believe that all is well," Goov said to the older man encouragingly.

"It has been many moons since she fell in the river. Do you think Ebra could have survived," Brun asked?

"I don't know Brun, but I have meditated, and the spirits tell me anything is possible." Goov thought about what he had told Brun, and sent another silent plea to the spirits to bring Ebra and Ayla back to them."

XxX

The Wait (originally posted on 12 September, 2003)

Brun woke up before the sun had risen, but he lay in his sleeping place anxiously looking around their dark campsite for some sign for that his mate was still alive. He looked over at Grod and Uka, who were still asleep, then looked toward Goov and Ovra. They were both sleeping as well. The lonely man grasped his amulet calling on his bison totem to bring Ebra back soon. Goov had said that anything was possible. Was Ebra still alive? He fervently hoped it was so.

When the sun broke the horizon the next morning, Vorn and Aba started out. This time, they weren't forced to leave the river, as they had been before, since they were on the other side. They could see that the sandy beach on the other side had become dirt hills with scrub, which eventually rose up into cliffs that were covered with many trees. Vorn was glad they did not have to travel on the other side while going back upriver. Aba was aware as well that this side was easier for her, but she was getting tired anyway. She wasn't young after all. And,she couldn't get her mind off the fork, where there would be another river to cross.

They traveled for what seemed like forever to the old woman, when Vorn said, "Aba, hurry up, we are almost there." Aba sped herself up and when they came to a line of trees. Vorn knew from passing the other way that the fork of the river lay just beyond the riparian growth, and he assisted Aba through the brush.

Brun's mood was getting worse and worse as they sat there with nothing to do, but wait. Uka and Ovra had served the men their morning meal, but they had nothing else to occupy their time, so they all just sat there by the fire, sipping tea and telling stories.

Then, when Brun could stand it no more, he decided to take a walk. His walk, however, was cut short when Vorn and Aga came into view on the other side of the river.

When Brun saw Vorn, he thought at first that he must be seeing things. However, when he focused on the young second in command, he not only knew who he was looking at, but that the man had good news. The experienced former leader also knew that there was something else going on.

"Grod, Goov!" Brun called excitedly. "Vorn has returned."

The four other clan members got up and followed Brun over to the river's edge. Uka too knew that her sister had been found and was overjoyed.

XxX

The Crossing (originally posted on 12 September, 2003)

When everyone had arrived at the edge of the river, Vorn signed across that Ebra was okay, but she had a broken leg.

"And what about Ayla," Brun asked anxiously, wondering if she was all right as well.

"The medicine woman is with Ebra, and Droog stayed with them. We have also encountered another clan. They number two hands. When we came upon Ebra…they were with them. They lost their cave in the earthquake, and they want to join our clan." Then, Vorn continued with distressed motions, "Brun, some of them look like Durc, and one of their children is a girl of the others. " He hesitated again, then gestured, "Broud will not want them to be part of our clan, but we can't leave them out here alone."

Brun could see how troubled Vorn was. He was too young and inexperienced to be second in command, Brun thought. "Don't worry about it Vorn. Broud won't turn them out. Wait there, we will cross over, so we can talk about this more."

Brun decided that it would be best to go upriver just a bit, so that they could use the rocks that were in the river. The crossing was rather simple and in no time the four men and three women were standing on the same side.

Vorn was became somewhat more relaxed when Brun arrived, and preceded to tell the other three men everything that had happened. Vorn hadn't been with the new clan long enough to know much about them, so it didn't take him long to tell the whole story. And Brun was eager to get to Ebra, so they left promptly.

XxX

Looking back (this is another side plot)

While all of this was happening, somewhere on the other side of the peninsula, many other caves were in upheaval. One cave in particular was the cave in which Oda and Ura belonged. Oda's mate had been killed in the earthquake along with almost everyone else in the cave. The survivors had managed to survive only because they had been outside at the time the earth began to shake.

When they settled down, and took a look at the damage, the surviving three men decided quickly that they had to move, but none of them knew where they could go, due to the deformed child that lived among them.

Oda knew that her daughter, whom she loved dearly, was the cause of their dilemma, and decided to risk making a suggestion. Handing Ura to the only other woman, Oda approached the men and dropped to the ground at their feet.

Corg looked down at the woman, who despite her deformed child, was a good clan woman, and he tapped her shoulder saying, "Oda, what do you want? The men are having a discussion."

"This woman would like to make a suggestion, if it would not offend the men." Corg grunted assent, as they had not come up with anything yet, and because Oda was the daughter of his mother, and he had always liked her.

"This woman's daughter is promised to the son of the first ranked clan's medicine woman. I think we would have a place with them if we travel to their cave. I am told that their cave is just a few days journey from here."

Corg hadn't even considered Brun's clan. I wonder if it's still Brun's clan, he thought to himself. I wonder if they would really take us. Well, we don't really have much choice. "I will discuss it with the men."

Oda excused herself, but was glad she had gotten up the courage to remind Corg of the first ranked clan's agreement. Oda quickly went over to Aza, who had been minding Ura and the other three children, and began helping her with the meal, and the children. The men had much to discuss, and she didn't want to get in their way.

Corg had turned back to Norv, who had a look that immediately told Corg he wanted to give Brun's clan a shot. Nouz, who had only recently become a man, nodded his agreement as well.

So, Corg thought to himself, Brun's clan it is. That will make Oda happy. I hope they will accept us.

It was the day after the earthquake that these nine people set out for the cave of Brun's clan, not knowing that Brun's clan was now Broud's clan, and that the cave was destroyed, and the people had left.

XxX

The Member's of Corg's Clan:

Corg (17) – takes on leadership role after cave's collapse
Aza (15) – Corg's mate
-~-Orga (5) – Aza's first daughter
-~-Egra(2) – Aza's second daughter

Oda (12) – daughter of Corg's mother
-~-Ura(2) – mixed child, created by the totem of a man of the others

Norv (15)
-~-Nouz (9) – son of Norv's deceased mate, has been a man for just one moon cycle
-~-Nala(4) – daughter of Norv's deceased mate

XxX

Who Does Igra See? (originally posted on 15 September, 2003)

Two moons later, when the small clan of nine members arrived at the trail that they knew led to Brun's cave, they could tell that something was not right. Corg, who was leading their clan, stopped and motioned to Norv. "It appears that many people passed through here recently. Do you suppose it was Brun's clan?"

"It must have been them Corg, but we should still travel to their cave to make sure, and then come back if it was them. At least we can see that they went that way," he said pointing in a northwestern direction.

Corg grunted. He hated to go out of their way, since they had four young girls with them, but it would be terrible if other people had traveled through the area and they missed Brun's clan altogether by not going in the direction of his cave.

Oda watched the men discuss the footprints and held Ura close, still hoping that they would be able to stay with Brun's clan. They had agreed to accept Ura, she was sure it would be all right.

It took them longer to get to Brun's cave than they had anticipated, and when they got there, they were saddened to discover the cave in shambles and completely deserted. The men decided to stay there for the night, but wanted to start out immediately in the morning. If they traveled quickly, maybe they could catch up to Brun's clan and join them shortly.

Corg and Norv were too worried about tracking the Burn's clan, but what they didn't know was that there would be four rivers to cross during their journey, and the crossings would be very treacherous for three men, one of them very young, two women, and four little girls. It would be the rivers that slowed them down considerably, and kept them so far behind those they were following.

Those waiting with Broud were getting rather anxious. With every day that Brun did not return, Broud was becoming more and more upset that he had allowed the mate of his mother to go off to search.

Broud cared for his mother, she was an exemplary clan woman, but this is ridiculous, he thought. Ebra had to have drowned in the river, and now everyone was waiting for nothing. They were never going to find a new cave if they sat around waiting for Brun to return.

He had tried to tell everyone that they would only wait a few moons for Brun's return, but the men had come to him, saying that the women and children would be devastated to leave without at least Brun's return to tell them she was dead, not to mention that Vorn, Grod, Droog and Goov would most definitely be needed if they were to hunt enough meat for the winter.

Broud didn't know it yet, but with each passing day his leadership was slipping away from him.

Corg and his clan had only started off a week's worth of days behind Broud's clan. In the best of circumstances they should have caught up quickly, but the many watercourses had hurt their travel. It seemed like every time they got across a river, another appeared in front of them, but they continued to follow the tracks of Broud's clan, and they were making good progress. The women were becoming weary since they didn't know where they were, or how far behind they were, but they pushed on. Actually, they were extremely close, due to the rests Broud had called and Ebra's near drowning.

Early one morning, when the women of Broud's clan were out making the morning meal, Igra was sent to the river to get water. When she looked out over the water of the river and into the distance beyond, she saw that people were approaching.

"Mother," she said when no one noticed the distant people. "People are coming." Ika looked over the river, then went straight to Broud and sat at his feet.

Broud looked down at the excited woman, knowing that something was up, and tapped her shoulder. "This woman wants to tell the leader that someone is approaching from the other side of the river."

Broud looked up quickly, thinking it might be Brun, but knew immediately that Brun would not be coming from that direction and from that far away. With a grunt, he called the only three men with him to go to the river's edge to wait for the strangers.

XxX

The Meetings (originally posted on 16 September, 2003)

The group made their way back to Ebra and Ayla very quickly, and it was obvious that Brun was happy to see his mate. She could not kneel in front of him as was their custom, but he did not expect her so.

Ayla, however, dropped to the ground at his feet as soon as he had finished talking to Ebra. The former leader looked down at her and tapped her shoulder, but before she could speak, he cut in. "This man is grateful to the first medicine woman for her bravery and skill. I would be without Ebra if it were not for you."

Ayla blushed at his praise, Iza had always told her that too much praise would make the spirits jealous, and she didn't want to bring bad luck. "This woman is grateful to the former leader for coming after us. May this woman ask if she will be allowed to live?"

Brun considered the woman sitting at his feet, thinking that she would have made a good man of the clan. It's too bad Broud hates her so much. "Ayla, you know I am not the leader of this clan anymore, but if I have anything to say about whether you live or die, you will not be cursed again."

Ayla looked at the man that had accepted her into his clan, and who had protected and punished her on and off throughout the years, and she knew he would do what he could.

After checking on Ebra and talking to Ayla, Brun left the women to join the men. He should have done that first, but he had been so worried about his mate and was so thankful to the medicine woman that he skirted custom for the moment, but now he was ready to meet the strange clan.

He had observed them surreptitiously while talking to Ebra and Ayla. They were an odd bunch, three men, one of them mixed and obviously interested in Ayla, the former leader noted silently. Two women, both clan, he thought looking around. Two male children, one of them mixed, and three female children, two born at the same time, both clan, and the last, a girl of the others. Brun made these mental notes almost without thinking. It came from many years of leading his clan, and it was easy to fall back into the habit with Broud gone.

Droog stepped forward; ready to introduce the man that was acting as leader for this new clan to his former leader. "Dorg, this is Brun," he said in the formal language. They exchanged greetings and Dorg proceeded to name the people in his clan. Brun thought it was rather odd that Dorg told him the names of the women and children, but he supposed knowing everyone's name could be helpful, especially if they were going to be part of their clan.

"Droog expresses some concern about your leader's acceptance of more people. I realized we have an odd make up, but we are clan and we need a place to live. Our men can hunt well and our women are hard working. We could be an asset if to your clan if you will allow us to become part of you."

"Yes," Brun said, "you are a different clan. I am no longer leader, but the clan does not turn out its own if it can be helped. I will speak for you when the time comes." Brun had already made his own decisions about these people. First, they had helped Ebra and Ayla. Second, the mixed man, Grov seemed to be interested in the medicine woman. Maybe they could finally get that strange woman mated. And third, he liked the openness and directness of the man Dorg. It was very different from what Brun was used to, but they were going to need someone like that if they were going to find and establish a cave with so many people.

Brun hoped that Broud would be able to take the changes that were bound to come with so many strangers. He hoped, but he also had doubts.

What Brun didn't know was that Broud was getting his first taste of change even as he himself was meeting Dorg's clan. It only took Broud minutes to realize what clan of people were traveling toward them on the other side of the river. Broud had come face to face, over the river of course, with Ura and her mother, and he was scowling with anger.

He had not even thought about the deformed child that he had promised to accept two years before, but now he was going to have to deal with it. How had they found them, he thought bitterly? This is all Brun's fault, if he had not gone after Ebra, then we would be gone and they would not have found us. His eyes fell on Durc and his scowl deepened.

Corg signaled from across the river, "Are you of Brun's clan?"

This infuriated Broud even more. "No!" He gesticulated rather angrily. "Brun is my mother's mate. I am Broud and I am the leader. What do you want?"

Corg noticed that Broud was not happy. Who wouldn't notice with his angry gestures? He became concerned that he had taken what was left of his clan on a journey for no reason, and he glanced at the women and children that would not be able to take the trip back.

"I am Corg, and this is Oda," he said pulling the cowering woman forward. "Her daughter Ura was promised to the son of your medicine woman at the last clan gathering. We have lost our clan in the quake and we have nowhere to go. This clan would like to join your clan if you would allow."

"That medicine woman is no longer with us," was all that he said.

"And what of the boy, Durc? Is he still with your clan?"

Broud saw no way out of his promise and nodded. Corg repeated his last statement; "This clan would like to join your clan if you would allow."

Broud was not happy, but he knew he had already agreed to the promise and he could see no way out of it, so he acquiesced and sent Crug and Borg to help these people across the river. Maybe they will get swept away like my mother did, he thought hopefully, but they all crossed safely.

XxX

Durc Meets Ura (originally posted on 16 September, 2003)

Brun and his search party, Ayla and Ebra, and Dorg's clan members set out the next day. Brun wanted to get back to Broud as quickly as possible. Goov had told him that he was sensing trouble.

The men had devised a way to carry Ebra, so that she didn't have to walk at all. Brun watched them construct the strange contraption, which they called a stretcher, and was impressed with their innovation. It's probably something they learned from having the others around so much, he thought as he looked over at Ayla. They sure have some strange ideas.

Ayla seemed to be acting strangely, but that was to be expected. She had no way of knowing what was going to happen to her. Broud was probably going to want to curse her again, but I cannot allow that, he thought. Glancing over at Goov, Brun wondered what the young Mog-ur's thoughts were on Broud cursing Ayla again.

When Brun looked back at Ayla, she was in the medicine woman's customary position, carrying the child Ora, and talking to Grov. The man must like her, even though she's so ugly. I wonder if she is ugly to the others, he thought. And that child…having another Ayla with our clan will be more than the son of my mate can bear I'm sure. What will I do about Broud? Maybe I should take leadership back, but has that been done before? Brun decided that he better discuss the idea with Goov, and gestured the Mog-ur forward.

"Goov," Brun started. "I've been thinking about Broud, and how difficult this all is going to be for him. I do not think he can handle this…orbeing leader." It was obvious that Brun was embarrassed and pained by the realization that the son of his mate was not competent. "I'm wondering if there is anyway to rescind his leadership."

Goov considered what the former leader was saying. He did not want to reply too soon, and he did not have an answer for the man. "Brun, I will search my memories to see if it has ever been done, but if it hasn't been done…for what it's worth, I do agree with you. You should not feel shame Brun. You were a good leader, and you have done what you can for this clan. I have faith that youwill make the right choice, no matter what it is."

Brun watched as Goov slowed down to assume his place in line, considering what he had said, "…that you will make the right choice…." Does that mean he will stand by me if I choose to takeback leadership of our clan? He thought it did, but he would still wait for Goov to search his memory.

Broud had stomped off, seething at the prospect of accepting another deformed child into his clan. He couldn't believe they had actually found them. He was heading for his shelter, but changed direction, grabbed his spear and disappeared into the tree line, leaving Crug, Borg and Zoug to deal with the newcomers.

The three men greeted the new clan, and the women got busy making a meal and tea. Uba was extremely curious about Ura. She remembered meeting Oda and Ura at the clan gathering two years before, and she wanted to talk with her. Uba decided to bring Durc with her. "Durc, come with me. I want you to meet someone."

Durc did as he was told. Taking Uba's hand, he followed the young medicine woman toward the stranger, and the little girl that looked like him.

"Oda, Ayla isn't with us, but this is Durc." Uba tried to look at Ura, but he little girl was hiding behind her mother. Experience told her that strangers didn't like her very much and she was scared that this stranger would be like all the others.

"This woman is grieved to hear that Aayghha is not here," Oda said. "Who cares for her son?"

"Well, right now, I do. We have had some trouble. Our former leader's mate fell into the river and was swept away. He and several others have gone searching for her, but they have been gone for a while, and we are getting worried. But,for now I would like Ura to meet Durc." Uba tried to look at Ura again, but the little girls was elusive.

Oda wanted her daughter to make a good impression and pulled her out from behind her. "This is Ura."

While the two women had been talking, Grev had approached. He had been curious as to what was going on with his milk brother. "Durc!" He exclaimed. "Ura looks like you." Durc looked at the little girl, but he did not know what he looked like. He knew he looked different, but he had never seen an image of himself to really know.

Grev reached out to touch Ura's hair. "But her hair is different. Uba, why Ura's hair so light? And why are her eyes so light too?"

"I don't know, Grev. That's just the way the spirits mixed," Uba answered. Ura's hair was darker than Ayla's, but still light, and streaked with reddish-brown, and her eyes were hazel in color. The child was definitely different looking, Uba thought.

Durc looked at Ura, but lost interest after his initial inspection of the girl that was to be his mate. He was only three years old after all; he had plenty of time to look at her later.

"Uba, Durc want to play with Grev."

Uba knew the boys wanted to play, and she wanted to let them. Soon enough it would be time to travel again, and there would be no playing. "Go ahead Durc, but take Ura with you."

Oga had been watching the two women. She never did have many friends. She liked Ovra, but Ovra didn't have children and somehow that made a difference. She liked Uba too, but Uba had always been associated with Ayla, and Oga had always tried to stay away from the woman that her mate hated, but things were so different now. When Uba saw Grev's mother watching, she motioned her over.

Oga was pleased to meet Oda, and wanted to make sure Oda felt comfortable here. She knew it was going to be hard, given how Broud felt about deformed children, but she would do what she could to make the young mother welcome. She would do it for Ayla.

When they stopped for a rest and a meal, Goov decided to meditate. He went off alone, just as Creb had always done, and searched his memories for a way to remove Broud from leadership. He did not find anything, but he held his amulet and vowed to keep trying.

XxX

Brun Walks In Front (originally posted on 17 September, 2003)

After their meal, Brun wanted to be on their way again. Brun was in the lead, with Grod with him, even though Vorn's status as second in command dictated that he should have been there instead. Part of it was that Brun was too used to leading, but it was also that Vorn sensed that the end of Broud was coming, and with Broud, him as well. He didn't even care that much. Broud was making life too difficult for everyone.

Ayla walked just behind the two leading men, with most everyone else trailing behind them. Just behind the medicine woman, the men were taking turns carrying Ebra on the stretcher, right now Droog and Goov were doing it. Earlier it had been Dorg and Daub.

Behind Ebra's stretcher was a clump of women and children, with the men walking on either side of them for protection. Grov was the only man carrying a child. Vorn kept looking at him, wondering why a man would want to hold a child, and finally decided to ask. "Why do you carry that child? It's woman's work."

Grov considered the young second in command before answering. He didn't want to offend, after all, it seemed like this clan was having quite the struggle already, without him adding to it. "Ora is the daughter of my mate, and she is dead. She was one of the others and they have very different ways than the clan. Men are expected to care for the children just like anyone else. Before my mate died, she had been with our clan for many years, along with some of her family. They were responsible for much of our change, but then we also had many mixed people in our clan. I think change is easier for mixed people and the others. I am only part clan, as I am sure you can see, and I have changed along with my clan. We have learned this from them, and it is very nice. I am glad that my mate's daughter cares for me. I would be lost now if I did not have Ora."

Vorn had a perplexed look on his face. His mate did not have children yet, but he couldn't imagine carrying them around all the time. That was women's work. "Why would you mate a woman of the others? Don't you find them ugly?" Vorn looked over at Ayla unconsciously.

Grov smiled, which made Vorn even more uncomfortable, then said, "I mated Nora for several reasons. One of them was because neither one of us had anyone else to mate, but also because I cared for her. She was a good woman. She had many skills. She worked hard. She did not see that I am mixed, and no, I did not think she was ugly."

Vorn studied the man, then looked toward Ayla. "What do you think of Ayla?"

"I don't know yet, Vorn. I am still getting to know her. If she likes me, and we can work and live together, then maybe she and I will be good together."

"What does it matter what she wants? She is only a woman. It is the clan way for men to dominate woman. They need it or they become lazy."

"Vorn, I do not see it that way. I want a woman who wants me, not one that is forced to submit to me. I do not want to force a woman to be with me" Grov finished his gesture, and looked over at Ayla. Then he signaled again, "Now, if you don't mind, I would like to speak to our medicine woman."

Vorn watched him go. This man sure had some different ways of looking at women. He could see the attraction that Grov had for Ayla. He could even see a difference in Ayla. She was somehow more enticing now. She seemed to be trying to get Grov to notice her. She had never done anything like that before, in fact, she usually tried to be invisible.

Suddenly, Vorn was missing Uba, and was wondering if things would ever be the same for their clan.

XxX

Broud Returns (originally posted on 18 September, 2003)

Ayla had been aware that Grov was talking to Vorn, but she had not seen the whole conversation, since she was ahead of them and had to keep her eye on where she was going. She was considering her ugliness when she noticed Grov hand Ora to Uga to nurse, and then set his eyes on her and quicken his step to catch up.

Ayla immediately became nervous when she saw him coming. Not because she was afraid of him, but because he was evoking in her, feelings she had never had, and she didn't know how to respond.

"Hello Grov," she said without kneeling at his feet or waiting for a tap on her shoulder. She couldn't really kneel while they were traveling, and she could tell that Grov didn't want her to do those things. Grov responded with only a grunt, not knowing what to say to her. He just wanted to walk with her.

Ahead, Brun and Grod were keeping a fast pace for the people, but Brun was still watching to see that everyone was keeping up. Aba was having trouble, but the women were helping her along. Vorn was having trouble as well, though it was more that he was feelingtroubled. Brun understood the thoughts that were going through Vorn's head. He too was wondering what was to become of them; all of them.

Furthermore, he had not missed the conversation between Vorn and Grov, and it worried him that Grov would have difficulty with clan ways. Ayla had not been able to curb some of her behaviors, and it appeared that he might share some of her idiosyncrasies. But, he thought, watching Grov and Ayla walk together, mostly in silence, I now have someone to give Ayla to, and, it appears like she would actually be pleased to be his mate.

When the day came to an end, Brun knew they only had one more day of travel left, and he was glad. He wanted so badly to get his people back on track. They needed to find a cave very shortly, and hunt, so they could last the winter.

When Broud returned to where everyone was congregated that evening, he was even more distressed to see Oga associating with the mother of the deformed girl. Why did everyone seem so indifferent, he thought? Broud looked around at the people and his eyes fell on the youngest son of his mate, who was playing with Durc. He was always playing with that deformed boy, and now, he's playing with that deformed girl too. Why did Brun let that boy live? If he had not, then Ura would not be here at all. This is all Brun's fault, he thought, his blood boiling.

Uba had seen her mother's sibling's son return, and despite the fading light, she could see the redness of his face, and whom he was watching. She sent a plea to her totem, begging the spirits for the safe return of Brun and everyone else, as she didn't know how much longer it would be before Broud exploded.

Oga also saw Broud return, and she saw his dark look. She had spent many years with him, and had always been happy, until recently. Now, all she felt for him was distrust and fear, and even anger.

XxX

The End Finally Arrives (originally posted on 18 September, 2003)

The next morning, Brun's group started off at sunrise. As Brun remembered their journey downriver quite well, and decided they should be able to reach Broud's clan in time for the midday meal.

The members of their party were extremely excited that they would be seeing family and fiends, it had had been quite an extended and unexpected trip. Aba was looking forward to seeing her daughter, Groob and Ona. Ayla, though uptight about coming up against Broud, was dying to hold Durc again and see Uba. And though they would not admit it, the men that didn't have their mates with them, were looking forward to seeing them.

The other people were a little less excited. They hadn't missed the fact that everyone seemed uneasy about coming upon their leader again. Grov knew his and Ora's presence would be trouble, Vorn's attitude had told him that. And Dorg was nervous about how the son of his dead mate would be treated.

Brun knew he was going to have to deal with a lot, and he was mentally preparing himself as they walked.

Everyone back at the camp had fallen into a rather lazy routine, if you could even call it that. They woke up and ate. The men hunted after the morning meal, while the women looked after the children. When the men were done hunting they returned and ate again. Then they either practiced with their weapons, made new weapons or talked about weapons until the evening meal. That day was no different.

After eating, Broud signaled Oga to relieve his needs. Afterwards, he told her the men would hunt, and that he wanted her to stay away from Oda and Ura. "Yes, Broud. This woman will do as her mate wishes," Oga replied, even though she was becoming increasingly irritated by his ridiculous demands.

Broud grunted his pleasure with her words, but something didn't seem right to him. He watched her closely, but called the men and they left. Only Zoug and Crug stayed behind to watch over the woman. Zoug was too old to go; his vision was failing him, and Broud had asked Crug to work with Brac and Groob on their bolas.

As the morning went on, not much seemed to be happening, everyone was just doing his or her own thing; the children were playing, the few men were teaching and the women were talking and resting.

Oga had obeyed Broud and was staying away from Oda, but she was closely watching the woman talk with, and enjoy the company of, the medicine woman. Uba noticed Oga's wistful look, and assumed she was staying away for a reason.

Everything was rather quiet when suddenly Ura let out a howl like no one had ever heard before. Everyone jumped up as their gaze was caught by the swift movement of a lynx that had slyly snuck into the camp, grabbed the two-year old girl by the arm and began dragging her away. Zoug, though old and half blind, reached for his sling, and had a stone in the air within seconds. The loud "thwack" that sounded told everyone the animal was dead, but the child's screams did not cease.

Oga, who had experienced the same terror when Brac was young, was the woman who reached the wailing child first. Oda and Uba arrived within seconds. Uba stripped the child to examine her. She definitely had a broken arm, no one could miss the bone protruding through her skin, but other than that, the child seemed unharmed. The other two women, assisted the medicine woman in holding the child for the bone repair. It was going to hard work, but Uba had the memories.

All of a sudden, out of nowhere, Oga felt her head explode with excruciating pain as her body flew back several feet from where she was kneeling down helping Uba and Oda.

"OGA!" Broud yelled with rage, kicking the woman that lay on the ground. "I ordered you to stay away from that WOMAN and thatCHILD! How dare you defy ME!" He gesticulated in fury. He stopped for only a second to catch his breath from running, but descended upon her once more with more anger than anyone there had every seen. "I am your MATE! I am the LEADER! How dare YOU! He paused again, then was about to go after her again, when Brac stepped up between his mother and her mate.

It looked as though Broud was going to strike the child in his anger, but Crug swiftly charged to the defense of the woman and her son. Broud had finally gone too far, he thought. We do not beat women for helping people and we do not beat children for any reason.

In the commotion, no one had seen Brun and the others approaching until he was on top of them. His heart sank as he saw the son of his mate kicking and beating Oga.

Vorn, Grod, Droog, Goov and Borg ran to help Crug, who was holding off their possessed leader. Corg, Norv and Nouz stared dumbfounded as the scene unfolded. Dorg, Daub and Grov stood by their own women as protection, and Ayla, Uka and Ovra rushed over to help Oga, who lay writhing on the ground, moaning in agony and bleeding profusely.

Brun, as calmly as he could, walked up to Broud and tore the amulet from around the son of his mate's neck, removed the stone that signified his leadership, dropped it on the ground and smashed it into the dirt with his foot. "Broud!" Brun said in a controlled, yet commanding voice. "YOU, are no leader, and WEwill not stand for your abuse any longer!"

XxX

Ayla's Throw (originally posted on 19 September, 2003)

The scene that was displayed would have caused past generations of the clan of the cave bear to arrest into coronary immediately. Fortunately, they had come so far as to be willing to end the leadership of the man who should never have been leader.

Ayla had gone to work on Oga right away, but she could not stop the miscarriage that was caused by the severe beating. She was able to get the woman's bleeding under control. She cleaned her up, packed her with absorbent leather and made the battered woman comfortable.

"Oga," Ayla said, but Oga did not respond. The medicine woman glanced around, looking for Brun. He was still standing near Broud, watching the son of his mate struggle against the other men. Ayla got up and ran toward the informally reinstated leader, dropping to the ground in front of him. Brun tapped her shoulder without hesitation, which caused a gasp to circulate around the people that were not aware Ayla was no longer dead.

"Brun," Ayla began. "Oga needs to know that I am not dead. I can treat her better if she can see me." Brun nodded, and called everyone's attention, but it was Goov that spoke.

"I have discovered that the bones are no longer set. The woman, Ayla, is among us again."

Suddenly, as if a veil had been lifted, everyone's eyes focused on the amazing woman that stood before them. She had overcome yet another death curse, and they were awestruck.

Ayla looked around at everyone, and her eyes stopped on Uba, who had been working on something, but had turned to acknowledge her sister before going back to work. Ayla suddenly realized there were other people there besides Brun's clan. Brun's clan, she thought with a smile. I'm so glad it is Brun's clan again.

Then, all of a sudden, Ayla remembered Oga, and ran toward the woman lying in the dirt. Oga had fallen asleep, and Ayla wanted to keep her comfortable. Ebra had insisted on being carried over and put down next to the damaged woman. Ayla made the leader's mate comfortable as well, then left the two women in the care of Uka and Ovra so she could go over to see if Uba needed help.

Uba was overjoyed that Ayla had returned, but she was still trying to stabilize Ura's broken arm, and welcomed the help of the first ranked medicine woman when she arrived. Ayla, on the other hand, was stunned to see Oda kneeling there, and then realized that the child must be Ura, the intended mate of her son.

"Uba, what happened?"

"Ayla," she said. "This woman is so glad you are back. We were just relaxing. Most of the men were out hunting, and all of a sudden a lynx came in and started to drag Ura off. Zoug killed the lynx with his sling. We were helping Ura when Broud came back and beat Oga."

"Oda, it is good to see you. It has been a long time. Maybe you could boil some water, so I can make a sedative for Ura. If we don't set the break properly, then she won't be able to use her arm, and we cannot set it properly if she is awake."

Oda did not need to be told twice. Ura already had her deformity against her, she did not want her to be lame as well.

When the water was ready, the two medicine women administered the drug and repaired the break. They had to push the bone back in, sew up muscle and skin, which Uba had searched her memories to be able to do, then they bound the tiny arm of Ura and lay her down near Oga and Ebra.

It was at that time that Ayla took a deep breath, and turned toward the struggle.

Broud was still struggling. He was throwing punches like mad, and it was taking all the strength of the six men that were holding the incensed man back to hold him. Ayla watched for but a moment, then pulled out her sling and lopped a stone up in the air so that it fell down on the top of the man's head, knocking him out instantly, but not harming him permanently. The men that had been restraining him put him down and stared at the woman who hunts.

Ayla didn't know why she had done what she did, it had just seemed right at the time, but she was unsure now. Brun didn't look too happy, and then there was the shock on the faces of Oda's clan. They didn't know that she was allowed to use a sling. Oda looked terrified, and the other men from her clan looked angry.

Ayla went to Brun and cowered at his feet, hoping he would not curse her for what she had done. He tapped her shoulder and she looked up. "Ayla, I do not want any of us hurting others, but do not worry, it is good that you stopped Broud; he was out of control. This man is grateful that you are back, and that you can help Uba with the injured people. Now, go see if anyone else needs assistance. We need to put our clan back together so we can find a cave to live in."

Ayla was stunned by his praise, and by the information that he had bestowed upon her. This wasn't the first time the stoic leader had been grateful to her. He isn't angry with me, she thought, and hid her smile. I am a good clan woman.

XxX

Ayla's News (originally posted on 19 September, 2003)

Brun had ordered that Broud's hands be bound behind him with leather straps. He did not have a memory for this, but Grov suggested it, and it seemed like the only way to stop the son of his mate from inflicting more damage on their clan. Though he hadn't thought about it before, Brun could see the advantage, which they gained from having mixed men among them. They had different ideas.

After binding Broud, Brun told Ayla to examine him, just to make sure his injury was not life threatening. Ayla come over to examine him, and had to cringe as she touched the man that so full of hate. He had so much, she thought. Why was he such an angry man? Ayla ran her finger through his hair searching for the spot the stone had hit. She found a bump on the top of his head, but decided that it would not be the end of him.

As the medicine woman did her examination, the man opened his eyes and stared back at her. He noticed that he could not move his arms, and that the woman was examining his head. He tried to move away from her, but with his hands bound behind him, he could do nothing. His eyes blazed with anger.

Brun was aware when Broud came to, but he kept himself busy with matters of the people. He wanted everyone to set up the shelters. It was likely that they would spend some time at this sight; at least a day or so, so Oga could be completely stabilized. Ura could be carried, and Ebra already had her "stretcher." Looks like we need at least one more stretcher, Brun assessed mentally, looking at Broud's woman.

"Daub," Brun called to the young man who had constructed the stretcher. "I need another stretcher for Oga." Daub nodded, and went to work right away.

Ayla and the women gathered around the injured people, and talked about what they had all been going through; both those on the search and those left behind with Broud. Brun let it go on for a short time, and then he chastised them for gossiping.

Meanwhile, Goov had been meditating, trying to find a fitting punishment for Broud's behavior, and asking the spirits to help them find a cave.

When Brun approached the young Mog-ur, he hesitated, not wanting to interrupt if the man was making progress, but Goov gestured him forward.

"Have you found anything, Mog-ur?"

"Yes Brun," he said. "The spirits tell me that we should travel along this river; there will be caves at the end of it."

"And what of Broud's punishment? Have you found a punishment befitting his crime in your memories?"

Goov hesitated, then went on, "Yes Brun, I have."

Sometime in the evening, Oga woke up. Turning her head she saw the child, Ura, lying next to her, bandaged up, but asleep. When she turned her head the other way, she saw Ebra sitting there, propped up against some large rocks, but facing away from her.

Am I dreaming, she thought to herself? Ebra wasn't here earlier, was she? Am I in the world of the spirits? Oga looked around her and was pleased to see that the three of them were not alone. She saw the spirit of Ayla, but remembered that she didn't think the woman was dead.

What had happened to her? The woman had to concentrate hard to remember. Then it came back to her. She remembered the lynx attacking Ura and rushing to help her. Then, all of a sudden, Broud was upon her, yelling at her, and kicking and hitting her. She knew she had disobeyed him, but the child needed help.

Then Oga began to panic, where was Broud now? She looked around, but could not find him. She didn't know that Brun had ordered that he be taken inside a shelter, so that he would be out of sight.

Oga turned back to Ebra and groaned. Ebra looked at her immediately. "Ayla!"

Ayla fixed her gaze on the two injured women, and noticing that Oga was awake, got up and went over to them. "Oga, I am so glad you have woken up. How are you feeling?"

Oga shrugged her shoulders, and grimaced with pain. She was badly bruised all over, and it hurt to even do that.

"Oga, this woman is grieved to report that you have lost your baby," Ayla gestured formally and looked down at the ground. Oga had been scared that being pregnant during their search would be difficult, but she had also been happy about the prospect of having another baby. Now she was devastated. Ebra put her arms around the grieving woman, and felt responsible for not doing a better job raising Broud. Ovra too felt sympathy for Oga, she had miscarried several times herself, and the pain in Oga's eyes was not lost on her.

Ayla watched the heartbroken woman with tears in her eyes. "Oga, I need to examine you. It may hurt a bit, but it needs to be done. I need to make sure you are completely cleaned out, so infection does not set in."

Oga nodded and lay back for the painful exam. When Ayla had finished, she smiled at the grief stricken woman, "Oga, I will want to check on you often, just to make sure, but I think you will still be able to have children. You do not seem to have any permanent damage.

Oga sighed with relief, and hugged the medicine woman, who had done so much for her.

XxX

Broud's Just Desserts (originally posted on 19 September, 2003)

The clan rested for two days before Brun called a meeting of his people, and this is what he said:

"The clan has suffered much. We have all lost our homes and our loved ones. Now we are on a journey, to find a new place to live; a place that we can all live together in the clan way.

Please bring Broud out of the shelter." Grod and Droog got up and went to fetch the restrained man. Brun wanted the son of his mate to bear witness to the rest that he would say.

When Broud was brought out and put before his mother's mate, Brun made eye contact with him and continued. "We have been cursed with a leader that has not served us well. I will take responsibility for that, because I should have seen long ago that Broud was not competent.

Yesterday, I removed the leadership stone from his amulet and ground it into the dirt. I have here," he said holding up a new stone, "another one. I want all of you, women included, to vote now on whether or not you would like me to lead again." The only dissenter was Broud, whose look portrayed his vote.

When it was obvious what everyone wanted, Goov stepped forward, and everyone watched as he went through the motions that retired Broud and raised Brun to the rank of leader, just as he had done in reverse not too long ago. Goov then took the stone that Brun held, open the new leader's amulet and placed it inside.

After the changing of leaders, Brun turned toward the assembly again. "The first thing I want to do as leader, is to invite all of our unofficially acquired members to join our numbers. As all of us are part of the clan of the cave bear, we must take care of our own. Will you join us?"

The six men that stood before Brun nodded. Goov came forward again and gave them, and their women and children, a cave bear tooth to put in their amulets. Then the Mog-ur stepped back.

"And now," Brun continued. "We have the matter of Broud's punishment. We have already striped you of your leadership. I am now lowering your rank to the lowest ranked person in the clan, which you will be for at least one cycle of seasons, starting from the time we find a cave. Second, I am taking Oga and her sons away from you for the abuse you have inflicted upon her, and because she should not have to be the lowest ranked female because of you. I have not decided who will be responsible for her right now, but Ayla has agreed to care for her for the time being, as a medicine woman should. Third, until we have found a cave, you will stay completely out of sight. What I mean by this is that you will have to track us, but never come close enough for us to actually see you. I know that you cannot cook for yourself, so food will be set out every day for you. And finally, when we do find a cave, until I see fit, you shall order no one to do anything, including making the signal to the women. You can serve yourself in all ways. And, I reserve the right to increase punishments, modify them or end them all together, as I deem necessary. "

Brun watched the reaction that crossed Broud's face. His anger turned to fear, and then to contrite humiliation. It was what Brun wanted to see. This might be a good start, but he wished he had done it sooner.

XxX

They Begin Again (originally posted on 20 September, 2003)

The next morning, as everyone packed up to leave, the men of Dorg's clan prepared their own loads to carry, causing many curious looks. Their women could have easily shouldered the entire burden, but that's not how they did things. Some of Brun's women cast approving glances, wishing their men would do the same.

Ayla had been doting on their injured for days, and Ebra finally had to shoo the medicine woman away, saying, "Ayla, I am quite fine. I will keep an eye on Oga, and call you if she needs you."

Ayla smiled sheepishly at the leader's mate, knowing that she had been practically on top of the two women.

When everyone was ready, Ayla grabbed her belongings, and ran to her place in line. This time she was far less loaded up since other women were helping the alive and well medicine woman with her things. It is so good to be where I belong, she thought.

Uba came to stand next to her with a twinkle in her eyes. She too was glad Ayla was back. It had not been the same without her strange sister.

Durc, who had spent so much time away from his mother in the last weeks, was ecstatic to have her back, and didn't want to leave her side. Grev tried to entice him to walk back with him, but Durc gestured, "I want to walk with Mama."

Ayla smiled at her son, but encouraged him to walk with Grev. "It will make the walking more fun for you Durc, if you walk with your brother." She hadn't really wanted him to go, but knew she'd be carrying him in no time if he stayed, andshe wasn't really that far from him if he walked with Grev, who would be with Ebra and Oga on stretchers just behind them.

When everyone was all ready to go, Brun left his place at the front of the line to go talk to Broud. Broud was sitting on a rock, watching everyone prepare to leave. He still couldn't believe he had to remain behind the clan and stay out of sight until they found a cave. That could be a long time. And Oga, he had lost Oga…and Brac and Grev. He wistfully watched the boys standing near the front of the line. He was having such a hard time controlling his thoughts. One minute he was feeling guilt and shame, but the next he was raging inside.

As Brun approached, the younger former leader waited, thinking that this was going to be a tough period of time.

"Broud," Brun began. "You must wait until the sun is high in the sky before you follow. Here is some traveling food to last you until we stop, and here are your shelter, furs, and you spear," he said handing the son of his mate a small package of food and his belongings. You may carry your spear for self-defense, and if you wish, you may hunt with it. If you do choose to hunt, you must figure out what to do with the meat.

Shortly before we stop for the night, I will have one of the women put food out for you again. When you find it, then you may stop for the night. When it is time to leave in the mornings, I will send someone to let you know, or I will come myself. If you want to, you could give me any meat you have hunted, and I will distribute it among the clan. Is there anything you need right now?"

Broud was having a hard time taking it all in. He had never really been alone before, and the reality of his predicament struck him like a blow to the face. "No Brun," he said with completely silent gestures. "I will let you know tomorrow morning if I have any thing to ask you."

Brun looked down at Ebra's son with concern. He knew he had done what was necessary for the clan, but that didn't make it any easier; Broud was still the son of his mate. Brun turned to go, but turned back, signing, "Walk with Ursus Broud."

Broud watched the leader retreat, vowing to himself to become the man Brun wanted him to be. Secretly, he doubted he could do it, but he wanted to try. He wanted to get Oga and her sons back, and he didn't like it when Brun looked at him with pity. All of this never would have happened if Iza hadn't picked up Ayla, he thought angrily, then chastised himself for immediately blaming the woman that everyone else seemed to like.

When Brun arrived at the front of the assemblage, he gestured their departure. Now, my clan consists of more people than I can even count, he thought as they started out. We're going to have to find a very large cave, or maybe even more than one close together. Did something like that even exist?

XxX

Here is the order in which I have ranked the people of Brun's clan...for now, anyway.

* Please note – women fall wherever their mate is ranked. The only females who have some sort of rank of their own are the medicine women.

Brun (33) leader
Ebra (31)

-~-Zoug (43)
Grod (29) second in command
Uka (27)

Goov (20) Mog-ur status (can walk wherever he pleases)
Ovra (18)

Ayla (14) first ranked medicine woman – has her own status
Oga (17) under the care of Ayla
-~-Brac (7)
-~-Grev (4)
-~-Durc (3)

-~-Aba (35)
Droog (31) first toolmaker
Aga (24)
-~-Groob (6)

Crug (22)
Ika (20)
-~-Igra (6)
-~-Dorv (1)

Dorg (20) second toolmaker
Uga (16)
-~-Vorg (7)
-~-Breg (5)

Corg (17)
Aza (15)
-~-Orga (5)
-~-Egra (2)

Daub (17)
Eka (15)
-~-Ada
-~-Aka

Grov (16)
-~-Ora (1)

Norv (15)
-~-Nouz (9)
-~-Nala (4)

Vorn (13)
Uba (8) second medicine woman – has status of her own (walks with Ayla)

Borg (9)
Ona (9)

Oda (12)
-~-Ura (2)

Broud (21)

XxX

Who Shall Go? (originally posted on 21 September, 2003)

The routine had been set that first day of travel. They walked at a slow, but steady pace from dawn until dusk, every day. Brun checked out possible caves, but none had been adequate so far. It had been a week.

Oga was doing much better. She could walk again, but Ayla had requested from Brun that she not be responsible for carrying anything. He had agreed. Ayla had also requested that the woman be allowed to walk with her so she could keep an eye on her. Brun agree to that as well, and Oga was grateful. The two women were enjoying the beginnings of friendship after all the years of ignoring one another.

Ebra was still being carried, but she too was doing well. Ayla and Uba had decided to give her a few more days in the cast before removing it and letting the woman move with more freedom. Ebra was anxiously waiting the day it came off.

As for Broud, well no one had seen him for days. Brun had decided that for a while, he would be the one to go to Broud every morning. It just seemed like the right thing to do.

That morning was like every other morning, everyone was packing up to leave and Brun was trying to decided who would go back to see Broud. He thought it was time to make the change. But whom should he send? He didn't want to send one of the women, for fear Broud would have another episode and hurt one of them, and he knew that none of the men wanted to go help the young man.

Then it came to the leader…I can send Ayla. She can defend herself very well, and as a woman she won't object to doing the task.

"Ayla!" Brun called. "I want you to go back to Broud this morning, bring him food, and let him know we are moving on."

Ayla blanched at the leader's order, but nodded, accepting that she must do as she was bid.

When Ayla was about to start off, Grov signaled her to wait, and went to talk to Brun. "Brun, I would like to go with the medicine woman, if you will allow. I fear for her safety. She is only a woman."

If Brun could have smiled, he would have been. "Grov, Ayla is hardly 'only a woman.' She is quite capable of doing this task," Brun said. "But, if you would like to go, then I will allow it. A woman likes to be protected, after all."

Grov, who was usually more reserved, allowed a smile to cross his lips, and went to walk with Ayla. Brun shook his head; those mixed people are just as strange as the others are.

Ayla didn't know why Grov had ordered her to wait, but it became obvious when left Brun and caught up with her. "I am going with you."

Ayla blushed, "This woman is grateful that you will be there to protect her."

Grov looked at her strangely, and smiled. "This man would like to do more than just protect you."

Ayla blushed again, not quite sure what he meant. She had a good idea, but he hadn't made the signal, so she continued on the path toward Broud, thinking that she must have been mistaken. No one wanted her; she was too big and ugly.

Broud hadn't been up long when he saw Ayla and the deformed man Grov approaching. They were so deep in conversation and didn't notice that he was staring at them.

What does he see in her? She has got to be the most ugly woman I've ever seen, he thought. And what does shesee in him; the man is deformed? She didn't even acknowledge that I paid her favor when I took her.

Ayla and Grov stopped when they saw Broud. Grov had been carrying Broud's provisions and was about to give them to him, but Ayla stopped him and took them.

Ayla walked up to Broud slowly, and gracefully lowered herself to the ground in front of him. After all the seasons of Broud being the way he was toward her, the woman still just wanted to be accepted by him.

Broud was mystified by her behavior. He figured she would be gloating, but she wasn't. He tapped her shoulder.

Ayla didn't say anything, she just handed Broud his food and backed away to leave. Grov watched the two of them, but when Ayla returned to where he was standing, he possessively put an arm around her, to protect her from the man that had raged only days before.

XxX

Ayla's Accident (originally posted on 21 September, 2003)

A few more days passed, bringing the day that Ebra's cast like covering would finally be removed. Ayla and Uba made the woman comfortable and cut the leather straps that held it tight. Ayla held the wood that had formed to the shape of the woman's leg, and slowly removed it. Uba examined the leg and nodded. Ayla also poked and prodded, then added her nod to Uba's.

"Now Ebra, you still need to stay off of it," Ayla gestured, wanting the woman to not rebreak her leg. Then, seeing that the woman was going to object, Uba added, "just for a day or so."

Brun had been extremely curious about what the medicine women were doing, but he held back, knowing that they were competent, and that he would be in the way if he were to be there as well. When he saw them help Ebra to her feet, he was as overjoyed as a man of the clan could be.

While they were at it, they also checked on Ura's casted arm. They cleaned her arm up and checked the stitches where the bone had protruded. It looked good. She was younger, and younger bones usually healed easier, but her break had been compound and it would still be a while before her cast was ready to be removed.

Oda was grateful that the first medicine woman was taking such an interest in her daughter.

That day, they had started off after the medicine women had cared for Ebra and Ura.. They traveled in a generally northeastern direction, following the river. They had spent so much time next to the river that some were beginning to think it was endless.

After traveling yet another week's worth of days without seeing a suitable cave, they came across a large body of water. Brun didn't stop then, he was beginning to feel desperate, and quickened their pace.

However, as they traveled, herbaceous flowers of white, yellow, and purple—more rarely a vivid blue or bright red—filled the land, blending in the distance to the predominant young green of new grass. Ayla gathered everything she could, putting her medicinal herbs in her carrying basket, and adding a few pretty flowers here and there. Ayla delighted in the beauty of the season; spring had always been her favorite time of year.

One day, when they had been following the lake-like body of water for several days, Brun finally brought them to a halt. Ayla, who had been so deep in her thoughts about spring, failed to notice that Brun and Grod had stopped in front of her. She was walking slowly, sort of just meandering around, and had accidentally walked right into the leader.

Brun looked up at her with an unreadable expression on his face, and Ayla dropped down in front of him. Brun didn't even bother to tap her shoulder, he just moved away from the careless medicine woman to talk to Grod.

When Ayla realized that no tap was coming, she stood up again and looked around, feeling embarrassed. When she got over the embarrassment, she looked around at their surroundings. The lake was gone; they were following the river again. She wondered how long it had been since they had left the lake, and couldn't believe she had missed the change in scene. Was I really that into these beautiful flowers, she thought looking down at her basket?

The day had been rather warm, but the sun was sinking, and Brun was calling it a day. During that day's travel, their direction had changed from northeast, to north, and then to northwest. The place that Brun had chosen to stop was as good a place as any, Ayla thought. Across the river she could see that the river split in two again. Ayla considered the split, obviously, they would not ford the river; they would travel along the tributary that was closest to them.

When Brun signaled that they would stay there for the night, everyone dropped their belongings and set up their shelters. Fires were set and banked, so as not to go out, and the meal was started. Everyone was exhausted.

XxX

Ayla's Excursion (originally posted on 23 September, 2003)

The next morning, when all the people had risen and had consumed their morning meal, they packed up once again. Brun went back to tell Broud they were leaving, and when he returned they lined up and left immediately.

The season had warmed significantly, but gale winds still blew, causing the skin of the people to roughen, crack and peel. Everyone was tired of traveling, but fear of winter caused them to continue. Winter always ruled the land. On the hottest day of summer, the harsh glacial cold was never far from thought. Food had to be stockpiled and protection found to survive the long bitter season. They had been wandering since early spring and were beginning to wonder if they were doomed to roam forever….

When it came time to stop for the midday meal, Brun chose to stop by an outcrop of trees that they had seen ahead of them for some time. The people were hot and tired, wind blown,, and the shade and protection was welcome.

Ayla ate quickly, since she wanted to do a little gathering before they started off again. She approached the distressed leader to ask for permission, but Brun had seen her coming and signaled her not to kneel.

"Brun," she began. "This woman is low on medicinal herbs. This woman would like to take some time to gather if the leader thinks she has time." Ayla waited watching the man consider her request.

"Humph," he grunted looking around. "Ask Grov to go with you. I don't want you out alone. We don't know the area."

Ayla nodded and went over to Grov. He had seen the conversation, and was already picking up his spear. When Ayla saw him coming, she knew she didn't need to ask the man to come with her.

"Durc, I am going to gather herbs. Do you want to go with me?"

The boy looked to be considering the question. He was sitting with Grev, eating his meal, and wasn't sure if he wanted to leave his friend. Then, thinking about he last time his mother had gone off without him, and the length of time she had been gone, he nodded and got up to follow. A fleeting look of disappointment crossed Grov's face, then he shrugged and went to get Ora.

Ora had been sitting on Uga's lap nursing, while Uga sat with Oda, who was nursing Ura as well. The two young women had much in common, both had lost their first daughters, and both had lost their clans. Uga handed Ora to Grov, watching him walk off to catch up with Ayla. They are a good match, she thought.

Ura, watched Grov leave, carrying Ora, and she wasn't too happy about it. Then when she saw that Durc was going too, she began to wail. "Ura want to go with Ora and Durc!"

Ayla heard Ura's cry and turned back signaling to Oda. "It's okay with me Oda, if she wants to come with us." Oda shrugged and sent Ura on.

Brun had watched the whole scene. There was no doubt in his mind that Grov wanted to be given Ayla, and, though it didn't really matter, she really seemed to enjoy his company. It is a good match, he thought.

Grov, Ayla and the three children walked along the tree line, while Ayla gather everything that would fit in her basket. This river valley has so much, she thought.

They came to a small open area, where Grov sat the two girls down and gave them some rocks to play with. Durc had brought his small spear, in imitation of the man, and pretended to hunt.

"Grov, I hunt like a man," he said stabbing his spear into the dirt.

Grov nodded at the boy. "You sure do Durc, but hold the spear like this," he said repositioning the boy's spear. Durc smile up at the man.

While Grov was keeping the kids out of Ayla's hair, she was busily collecting. She hadn't realized she had wandered out of sight until she became thirsty. When she reached for her water bag, she happened to look up, and the sight that was in front of her caused her to drop the water bag.

"Grov!" She yelled.

It did not take the man long to pick up Ora and Ura, signal Durc to follow, and catch up with Ayla.

When he reached her, she pointed up at the mountain that stood in front of them. There was a cave in the side of it, and from what he could see from the outside, it looked like a good one.

The opening was of a decent size, but how big was it on the inside, he thought?

Ayla was certain this was the cave they had been searching for.

XxX

Grov's Furrowing Brow (originally posted on 23 September, 2003)

Grov took a step forward, ready to check out the cave, but Ayla put her hand on his shoulder. "Grov, this woman would suggest that we go back to tell Brun," she said with an unsure look on her face.

Grov considered her suggestion. He really wanted to explore the cave first, so he would know first hand if it was acceptable, but he knew she was right. "Maybe we could just stand at the mouth and look in," he said, knowing that wouldn't be right either.

Ayla smiled at him. He is very curious, she thought. I really like that. "We can't do that, what about the children. We shouldn't take them up there, nor can we leave them alone here."

Grov furrowed his brow, considering the dilemma and knowing she was right. "You go look at it first, and I will stay with them, and then when you are finished, then I will go."

Ayla cocked her head. "This woman thinks you should go first, Grov. Shouldn't a man see it first?"

"No Ayla, you found it, you should see it first."

Ayla smiled at the mixed man, who was really growing on her, and nodded her head. "I will go, but will you take the children back to the clearing so they are not watching?"

It was Grov's turn to nod. As he backed away with the children, Ayla turned to look at the cave entrance, and started for it with a quickened step.

Ayla carefully made her way up the rocky hill toward the cave. The way was not steep at all, in fact, there was a nice path leading up the hill. Ayla turned and looked behind her when she reached the ledge. She could see everything.

She had not noticed when she was so low, but the river ended here, or rather, probably started here with ice melt, and got larger and larger as it flowed. There was a smaller river, really more of a stream, coming down from somewhere on the hill, and going into the river down below.

On the other side of the river, there was a sparse forest of pines, and if she squinted, she could see another river through the trees. Ahead of her, she could see the more dense forest that she and Grov had come around. He must be right around that bend, she thought, straining to see him. She could not see him.

"And the clan must be over there," she gestured, pointing their direction as if she were telling someone where they were. She caught herself and giggled at the thought talking to people that weren't there. Then, she turned to the cave.

Ayla pulled out her sling and approached cautiously. She took several steps into the darkness of the cave, wishing Grov was with her with a torch. Then, as her eyes adjusted, she discovered that the cave was not entirely dark. Was that light she saw in the distance, she thought. How could it be? It's too far away to be light.

As the woman went further into the cave, she realized that this cave was bigger than any she had ever heard about, and there were niches all around the great room she was in. What perfect hearths, she considered, as she step in even more.

Then she came to a place where there seemed to be three separate passageways. When she looked to her left, she could tell there must be another opening, for the light was unmistakable. When she looked straight ahead, she saw light as well, though it was more diffused, and she could nothing to her right, though it was not completely dark there either. And what is it that I hear, she strained, trying to listen to the noise? That's running water. This cave has it's own spring.

Ayla could not contain herself; she spun around and practically flew out of the cave. She ran down the path and around the trees toward Grov. When she saw him, she was about to explode, but she lowered herself to the ground in front of him like a good clan woman, and waited.

Grov had watched the woman coming, and knew by her body movements that this was it. He didn't tap her shoulder, but took her hand and pulled her up instead "Grov, this woman would tell this man how wonderful the cave is. There are several other openings, besides the main one. This woman did not go in too far, but she can tell you that it is huge."

Grov could feel her excitement as she gestured about the experience, and her closeness was having another effect on him. When she finally noticed his need, she blushed and would have obeyed had he given her the signal, but he did not want to signal her. He didn't want to make her relieve him, and he didn't see that she actually wanted to.

Grov blushed as well, and stammered, "Ahh, Ayla!" Then he finished up with, "I will go check quickly, so we can go tell Brun about the cave." She nodded at him, wondering why he hadn't signaled her when he obviously had need. Am I so ugly that not even Grov, who had been mated to an others woman before, would want me?

She cleared the thought away, turning to look at the three children at play; two mixed and one Others. It didn't matter what Grov thought, she had Durc, and Durc now had Ura, and maybe someday she would have a man of her own.

Grov jogged up the path, needing to get away from Ayla. He had wanted to make the signal so badly, but he had heard about what Broud had done to her, and he couldn't do that.

He too cleared his mind, as he reached the top of the path. He slowly entered the cave and was astounded by the size. Ayla had not been wrong about its enormity. He walked in far enough to see the three passageways. He knew he needed to hurry, but he wanted to look around. Grov chose the left passageway, since it was lit up the most, and within moments, he came to another open room with another cave entrance. When he looked out the entrance he could see rolling hills.

He finally turned around, let his eyes adjust and then he realized that there was another passage leading off in a different direction than the one he had come in from. There was light down that way too, so he decided to take a quick look.

He hadn't gone far when he realized it was getting lighter again. He made a right turn, and followed the light. The cave opened up into another huge room. There was an opening in the roof of the cave, letting in light, and there was a large column right next to the opening; just about in the center of the room with water running down over it, and pooling on the cave floor. And there was running water behind the pool.

Grov was as excited as Ayla had been. He had never heard of such a cave, and couldn't wait to show it to Brun. When he looked to his right, he noticed that he was looking back at the main entrance; he had gone a full circle. Grov quickly exited the cave, and ran back to Ayla. They scooped up the children and hurriedly returned to the group.

Brun had been sitting against a rock relaxing. Grov and Ayla had been gone about an hour, and he was starting to worry. He was fairly sure they would be okay, but he was contemplating sending someone out to look for them when they appeared through the trees. Their movements left no doubt in his mind that they had found a cave, and that they thought it had possibilities.

XxX

A New Leader (originally posted on 25 September, 2003)

Brun watched them approach; they were walking side by side, in a very unclan like way. He was going to have to talk to them, he thought.

Then, there was a slight moment of indecision when Ayla stopped walking, but Grov insisted that she go to Brun immediately. The medicine woman looked as if she was going to argue with the man, but nodded and came forward. She hadn't wanted to be the one to tell the leader, because a man should do it, but she knew Grov wanted her to tell him, because she had found it.

Ayla walked forward with purpose and lowered herself to the ground with grace, waiting for the leader's acknowledgement.

Brun had never wanted to know what a woman had to say so much in his life. He did not want to show this, but he could not avoid it. He leaned over and tapped her shoulder almost before her knees were on the ground.

Ayla's breath exploded, as she pointed and said one word, "Cave!"

Again, if Brun could have smiled, he would have. Wasn't it propitious that this woman of the others had seen the cave first? After all, she always seemed to bring the clan luck. He was almost certain, even without seeing the cave, that it would be right for them. "Lead us to it Ayla," he gestured, finally understanding why Grov walked besidethis woman, and not in front of her. After all these years, he knew she had been sent by Ursus to guide him and his clan, but was it possible to really accept this, he wondered?

The hands of the clan were flying, in obvious surprise, at Brun's command to the medicine woman. Ayla blanched at the leader's words. Lead the clan, she thought, but I am not a man. Brun was pleased that the woman seemed appalled by his suggestion, but decided to stick to his words anyway.

Brun wanted Broud notified so he could accompany the clan to the cave sight. He sent Vorn back to the son of his mate, while the rest of the clan got up and aligned themselves, with Brun, Grod and Ayla in the lead.

Vorn ran off, in search of Broud, only to find him just around a bend. Broud had not been staying back as far as Brun wanted him to. In fact, he had been spying on them from only a short distance for days. This isolation Brun had imposed upon him was unjust punishment in his opinion, and he had no intention of hanging back so far.

Broud had not only been watching the whole clan, he had also been keeping track of Ayla; the reason for his punishment. When Grov and Ayla went off on their foray, he tracked them and watched through the trees. He too had seen the cave from the tree line, and he was furious that that woman had found another cave for their clan. At least, nowhe had something to tell Brun; the woman had entered the cave before it had been examined by the leader. This would surely help his predicament, he thought.

Vorn was shocked to see the man so close, but he masked it, and spoke, "Broud, a cave has been found."

Broud grimaced at Vorn's words, "Yes I know Vorn!"

"Brun wants you to join the clan," Vorn stated simply, noticing that Broud was already holding his pack and spear.

Broud only grunted at the man who had been his second, wondering why the young man did not seem troubled about losing so much status when Brun became leader again. Then they left the area to return to the clan.

Vorn had only been gone for minutes when he reappeared with Broud in tow. Brun did not miss the smug look on Broud's face, nor the fact that he had not been far enough back.

Broud's smug look disappeared, however, when he noticed Ayla in the lead speaking to Brun and Grod. Broud fell in line at the end of the clan, as it was his place, but he was red with fury. He had completely forgotten his vow to become the man Brun wanted him to be.

Ayla didn't miss his red face. She had hoped her trouble with him was over for the time being, but she knew now she would have to be watchful of the man that hated her.

When everyone was ready to go, Brun signaled them forward. Ayla felt completely awkward standing at Brun's side, but the leader walked with her, a clear look of excitement on his face. Grod did not look so at ease. He was, without a doubt, uncomfortable with the woman being there.

XxX

The Cave (originally posted on 25 September, 2003)

Their march to the cave did not take long. Ayla took them there the most direct route she knew of, and pointed up the hill when they arrived.

Brun had not needed the woman to show him the cave entrance when they arrived, it was quite visible from where they stood. The entire clan was gesturing about the sight that lay before them. Everyone was excited about the prospect of the end of travel.

Ayla, who wanted to tell Brun something, dropped to the ground in front of him. Brun impatiently tapped her shoulder, saying, "Ayla, what is it? We need to go see the cave."

"This woman needs to tell the leader that she went against clan custom again."

Brun studied her carefully, wondering what she had done this time. "Ayla, what did you do?"

"This woman could not help herself. I looked at the cave myself. It is huge."

Brun frowned, and was about to say something to her, when Grov approached. "What is it Grov?"

Grov had been watching, and couldn't stand the thought of Ayla getting into trouble, so he decided to back her up. "Brun, this man is afraid it is his fault that the woman, Ayla, entered the cave. I gave her permission, and I went in as well."

Brun grunted, and looked back at the cave. Without looking at them again, he dismissed the two of them with a wave of his hand, and turned to Grod, who held the aurochs horn and burning coal.

Brun did not see Broud throw his pack onto the ground and stab the nearest tree with his spear. He was so angry. He had hoped his tale of Ayla's misbehavior would bring Brun around. He didn't understand that it was his own behavior that needed to be changed.

Goov, who had just come up beside Brun, hadn't missed Broud's rage, but decided this wasn't the time to inform Brun that Broud hadn't seemed to learn anything in his absence.

"Ayla says the cave is huge, Goov," Brun gestured. "I think we should have many of us enter the cave for safety." Grod was nodding as Brun spoke to Goov.

"In addition, to the three of us," he continued, "we will take Droog and Crug in as well. "Then," he went on, looking at his 'huge' clan, "we will also take Corg and Dorg…and Grov as well, since he has already been inside.

Grod immediately went to work on torches for all the men to carry into the cave. When each man was holding his own torch, they grabbed their spears and made the trek up the path.

At the top of the path, Brun halted his men. He looked back, down at the people; the woman had started to gather while they waited. That was a good sign that there was plenty to eat. He looked next at the scenery. Water was close, as the river was right at the bottom of the hill, and off in the distance, he could see another river, with horses grazing in the pasture. This could be a good place, he thought, hoping that the cave would be large enough. Ayla said it was huge, but what does a woman know of huge.

The men entered the cave slowly, with their spears drawn, and waited for their eyes to adjust. It didn't take but a second for that to happen; there was so much light within the cave itself. They stepped in further.

Brun looked around, noticing that there were many niches in the wall; niches that were big enough to house full hearths, giving everyone private space. Brun was trying to count them, but he was becoming overwhelmed at the numbers. He was astounded at the size of the cave.

"Goov, how many niches are there?"

Goov started to count, then turned to Brun, "eight."

Then it was Grov that spoke next. "Brun, there are many more of them further in the cave."

Brun grunted, and walked on. When he came to the place where he could see three passageways, he stopped. "Grov, where did you go?"

Grov pointed to the left, "this passageway has many niches, and it leads to another cave opening, then the passage wraps around to connect to this one," he said pointing straight ahead. Then, indicating the third passageway, he said, "I do not know about that one."

Brun considered. "Goov, we will go down the left passageway. Keep track of the possible hearths." Goov nodded.

When they came to the cave opening, Goov said, "eight more." Brun nodded, thinking that that was already enough to house all of them, especially after he made some changes, and mated a few people.

Brun went to inspect the area outside this cave entrance. He noted that it was smaller than the main entrance, but decent, and the people who had hearths in this area could fend off possible invading animals.

The leader stepped out further, and realized there was no ledge; the ground immediately outside was flat, and then became rolling hills. And, he could see another opening to the cave farther down. He returned to the men in the cave.

Grov took them down the 'connecting passage,' and Goov added two more hearth areas to the list. Then the passageway forked. "Brun, I did not go that way," Grov said pointing to the left. They could see a small amount of light.

"That must be the other opening I saw," Brun informed everyone. "Droog and Crug, go check that one out. We will continue this way," he said, very interested in the sound of water he heard up ahead.

As they continued, Goov counted three more niches, bringing their total up to twenty-one spaces. The men then entered the other large room that Grov had said contained a pool of water, an opening in the ceiling of the cave that had light coming through, a smaller passage leading off who knows where, and running water on the far wall. Grov pointed out that the main entrance was back through a passageway to their right.

Brun went to the pool, which was straight ahead, and dipped his hand in and sniffed. The water smelled fresh. He looked up and saw that a steady stream was coming in through the opening in the cave roof, down the column and into the pool. It must be going back out through the cave floor; that's why the water is clean.

By this time, Droog and Crug had returned with news that the passage led off to a hearth-sized room and the small cave opening that Brun had said existed. They were excited about the indoor pool, and well lit up room.

Grov then said that he had not explored to the left, so Brun decided to go that way, indicating that Dorg and Grov should follow him, along with Goov. Everyone else waited.

The first 'room' was large and open, and it had an opening in the back of it; another small passageway, Brun thought. Goov went for a closer look. "Brun, it's another room, up a little higher." The leader nodded, wanting to move on.

As they rounded the corner, they could see another room; it not as big, but decent. The room had a small passageway, just like the last, but the biggest thing about this area was that there was yet another entrance to the cave. Brun went to look at it.

Outside, there was a valley filled with plant-life and animals. In the distance he could see a herd of Megaceros grazing, and beyond them some snow covered mountains. He went back inside, and the three of them joined the others.

Back with the others, they all inspected the walls around the inside river. There was anothersmall passage next to the opening that the river entered the cave. The river disappeared through another opening just twenty feet from where it entered, but they could hear it flowing through the underground caves.

There seemed to be another passageway to follow. This time Brun took Corg, Dorg and Grov with him. It just led around to the main cave. They circled back, collected the other men and started to walk back the way they had originally come into the cave.

As they were walking, Goov noticed another passage. Though smaller than many of the others, he wanted to see what lay beyond. What he saw astounded him. It was another room, but within it lay the body of a cave bear. The men were immediately alarmed, and began to back away, but Goov gestured them to stop.

"This bear is no longer living. It has not been dead more than a few days." He approached the dead bear, and saw that it had been fatally injured, but by what he did not know. "Brun, the spirits have disposed of this bear, so that we can occupy the cave."

Brun let out his breath, "we need to go tell the clan an acceptable cave has been found. We sleep outside tonight, and we hunt tomorrow. If Ursus truly wants us to stay, our hunt will be successful."

XxX

Brun's Announcement (originally posted on 25 September, 2003)

The rest of the clan was waiting, but as time went by, they were becoming more and more impatient. What was taking them so long? Ayla tried to explain to Oga, Uba and Oda, as she had been the only one to see the inside of the cave, that it was extremely large.

The more she thought about being inside the cave, the more she couldn't believe she hadn't gotten into trouble, but knew that was because Grov had stood up for her. She smiled down at Ora, who was sitting next to her and playing with Ura.

The two girls were only a year apart, but they acted far younger than the other girls of the clan ever had. Both sat babbling to themselves, something that the other clan babies never did. Durc had babbled too, but not so much as these two, she observed.

Ayla then looked around for her son, and found him playing with Grev. Of course, she thought, where else would my son be?

Ayla then looked back to the women she was sitting with. Uba was chatting animatedly with Oda, who had been previously starved for friendship. It was good for Uba too, she had only had Ona before, and Ayla was glad her younger sister was so happy. And was that a glint of secrecy she saw in Uba's eyes? Ayla looked at Uba more closely. Was Uba pregnant, she thought? When Uba looked up at her, and their eyes met, Ayla smiled knowingly. Her sister was pregnant. They were both overjoyed.

Then she looked at Oga. She's looking much better, the first medicine woman thought. It had been almost two hands of days since Broud beat her, and she was looking good. Her mental status wasn't as good though. She had become very quiet towards many, though she had opened up to Ayla completely. She felt that Ayla was her protector, sort of like a totem, and she was almost unwilling to leave her side if it could be helped.

"Ayla, is the cave really so large," Oga asked?

Ayla nodded, and gestured, "It's huge. I hope Brun likes it, and that the hunt is successful if he does. I have never heard of a cave that is so nice."

Broud sat away from everyone, not even bothering not to stare at Ayla and the other women. Oga noticed his glare and shuddered, knowing that if she was ever given back to him, she would be sorry she had become Ayla's friend, but she didn't care about that right now.

Ayla also noticed Broud watching them. She wanted to be careful; she didn't want to be accused of doing anything wrong, and ruin their chances of moving into this cave, so she ended the cave gossip.

After almost an hour, the men emerged from the cave entrance, and their body language told everyone the cave was perfect. By the time the men got down to everyone, they were all speculating wildly about he cave, and had to be called to order by their leader.

"We camp here tonight! We hunt tomorrow. If the hunt is successful, the cave shall be ours. Now, let's set up shelters and relax for we will have plenty of work to do tomorrow!"

XxX

The Hunt (originally posted on 26 September, 2003)

That night, Brun decided to restrict the son of his mate further, by not allowing him to hunt with anything other than a bola or a sling, which basically left him out of the hunt. Broud had been shocked when Brun informed him of this, and went to bed immediately, not wanting to take part in the relaxing evening meal or the storytelling.

Brun watched Broud enter his shelter, and shook his head, disappointed in the younger man's attitude. He had been hoping that Broud would respond to his punishments with resolve, and finally grow up, but it was not the case.

The next morning dawned early for the thirteen men that would be going on the hunt. Only two men were left behind, Zoug, who was too old to go along, and Broud, who was under restriction.

The men started out at first light. Brun had decided they would hunt Megaceros, which he had seen in the valley outside the northern cave entrance. The men would have to make the trek around the mountain that contained the cave, because Goov said they must not pass through the new cave in order to get to the valley. The hunters covered the distance to the steppes quickly.

Leaving the foothills behind, they fell into a ground-eating dogtrot, approaching the herd downwind. As they drew close, they crouched low in the tall grass watching the huge beasts…. The rangy, sweaty smell of the close-packed multitude assaulted their nostrils and the earth vibrated with the movement of thousands of hooves.

Brun, holding up a hand to shade his eyes, studied each individual creature that passed, waiting for the right animals in the right circumstances. To look at the man, it was impossible to tell the unbearable tension the leader kept under tight control. Only his pulsing temples above locked jaws betrayed his nervously pounding heart and raw-edged nerves.

Like the hunt after the first earthquake, that had allowed his clan to occupy the last cave, this hunt was now the most important one of his life. Even more important this time, because he had so many more people to be responsible for. As was clan custom, a successful hunt would not only bring meat for the feast that would be part of the cave ceremony, but would assure the clan that their totems did, indeed, favor their new home.

Brun glanced at his hunters waiting anxiously for his signal. Waiting was always the hardest part, but a premature move could have disastrous results and if it was humanly possible, Brun was going to make sure nothing went wrong with the hunt.

When Brun spotted a young male wandering away from the herd, he considered the animal. The animal was nearly full grown, but still young and inexperienced. Then, there was also a female close by, and by the looks of her, she carried fetal meat within her. Brun waited until they had drifted farther away from the rest, for a moment when they were two creatures away from the security of the herd. Then he signaled.

The men darted off instantly, fanning out,

Borg leading one group of men toward the buck, and Nouz leading the other group toward the pregnant doe. Brun watched as they spaced themselves at regular intervals, anxiously keeping an eye on the straying Megaceros. He signaled again and the men sprang toward the herd, yelping and shouting and waving their arms. Startled animals near the edge began to run into the main body of the herd, closing the gaps and nudging the one near the edge toward the center. At the same time, Brun dashed between them and the two chosen ones, steering them away.

While the frightened beasts at the periphery plowed into the milling multitude, Brun pounded after the buck, while Dorg did the same with the doe. The two men poured every ounce of energy into the chase, driving the two animals as fast as their thick muscular legs could move. The dry earth of the steppes filled the air with fine silty soil, churned up by the hoard of hard-hooved animals as the movement at the edge rippled through the throng. Both men squinted and coughed, blinded by the swirling dust that clogged their nostrils and choked their breath. Gasping, nearly spent, they passed the chase on to the next two ready men.

The buck veered again at Grod's fresh spurt. Brun's group of men was moving in, forming a large circle that would bring the beast back to him as he jogged, still panting, to close the circle. The doe managed to veer off again, but Daub stepped in as Dorg tired, and took over, bringing her into their circle. The vast herd was in full stampede, charging across the prairie-their unreasoned fear multiplied by the movement itself. The two panicked Megaceros were running from creatures with a fraction of their strength, but with more than enough intelligence and determination to compensate for the difference. Grod pummeled after him, refusing to give in though his pounding heart threatened to burst, and not too far away, Daub was doing the same thing with the female. Sweat made rivulets in the film of dust that covered their bodies and gave their beards a dun cast. Finally, the two men stumbled to a halt just as Droogand Corg took chase.

The hunters' endurance was great, but the strong young animals pushed ahead with untiring energy. Droog, now the second tallest man in the clan, with legs a shade longer than the rest, urged the animal forward, and bore down on him with a fresh burst of speed, heading him off when he tried to follow the trail of the departing herd. By the time Crug took over from the exhausted Droog, the young animal was visibly winded, as was the female when Norv relieved Corg. Crug and Norv were fresh, and the two men pushed the beasts on to exhaustion.

When it was Grov's turn to chase the female, no further chase was necessary, the animal was spent. She hung her head and heaved deep breaths, breaths that would be her last. Grov took the moment and thrust his spear through the doe's ribs and into her heart, ending her life.

In the other circle of men, when Goov jumped into the relay, the huge shaggy creature was slowing. The buck ran blindly, doggedly, followed closely by Goov, constantly prodding him to drain the last drop of strength remaining to the young animal. When Vorn ran up beside Goov, they ran after the beat together, but the buck had finally had enough. He slowed, then stopped altogether and refused to move, his hide lathered, his head drooping, his mouth foaming.With their spears held ready, the two men approached the exhausted buck, pulled back and lunged. Their long heavy spears bit deep into the animal's side; their fire-hardened points piercing the tough hide and cracking a few ribs in the swift, fatal thrust.

When Goov and Vorn looked up, they breathed deeply. It was finally over, and they had managed to get two of them. Brun was extremely pleased; the cave was theirs, andthey had two Megaceros to show for their hard work.

Brun's knife was out, ready to slit open the belly and gut the buck before they carried it back to the cave. Dorg did the same with the female. They removed the liver, cut it into slices, and gave a piece to each hunter. The choicest part, reserved for men alone, imparting strength to muscle and eye needed for hunting. Brun cut out the hearts of the great shaggy creatures and buried them in the ground…a gift he had promised his totem.

Their trip back to the clan was going to be much slower going, but the weight of the meat did not hamper their steps. Everyone was ecstatic.

XxX

The Men Return (originally posted on 26 September, 2003)

Back with the rest of the clan, the people were all waiting rather impatiently. Broud had come out of his shelter only three times during the day, one time to eat a meal and drink some tea, which he'd had to serve for himself, and two times to relieve himself and get more tea.

Zoug spent some time working with the young boys and their slings. Brac was getting pretty good at it, much better than the mate of his mother had been at seven years, but Vorg, who was mixed and built differently, was even better. The two of them were trying to show off for Igra and Orga, who were watching from afar. Groob was also practicing, and Breg was trying his hand at the sling as well. Grev and Durc, who weren't much younger, were watching, but both were really playing more the training.

The women were broken up into two groups; Aga, Ebra, Uka, Aga and Ika were sitting off to the side watching the younger women converse about this or that. The younger women; all younger than twenty, were talking about food, and mates, and babies, and different clans…the usual young woman topics, Ebra noticed, thinking about her age.

Ayla and Uba were discussing Uba's pregnancy. "Uba, have you told Vorn yet," Ayla asked.

Uba shook her head. "I was hoping to see if it went well first, and he has been so worried about everything that he hasn't noticed yet. I will tell him as soon as we move into the cave…if the hunt permits us to move in."

Ayla nodded her understanding. She had seen the grotesquely malformed conjoined twin sons that her sister had given birth to the first time, and she was nervous for the woman to have to go through it again. Ayla would be ever watchful of Uba's new condition, and would inform Brun as soon as Uba informed Vorn. Her mate should be the first to know.

And finally, there were the little girls, with ages ranging from six to one, who were doing various things. Igra and Orga were sitting near the women, playing that they werewomen, and watching the boys' training. And, Nala, Ada and Aka were playing with the three youngest girls, Egra, Ura and Ora.

The men had trudged across the rolling steppes on the path in which they had come, but as they neared the backside of their new home, Goov made a suggestion. "Brun, we could go through the cave. It is safe now that we have had a successful hunt, and it will save us much time. And, we won't have to carry the meat around, just to carry it up the hill and into the cave."

Brun nodded. He really liked the idea of less work. They'd had a rough morning; there was no reason to prolong it.

The men changed direction and headed for the northern entrance of their new cave.

Once inside, the men dragged their prized hunt in and around the first bend, and put it down. Brun told Grod to light some fires throughout the cave to light it up and get some heat flowing through. It was very cool within the cavern. That would be Grod first task as soon as wood was gathered.

Then, they talked about who should be allowed to come in to get some meat for the feast. "Who will come get meat, Brun? We don't want them all seeing the cave before we move in," Grod asked.

Brun considered, he wanted to decide on hearths before any woman entered the cave, but he hadn't had time to do that yet. He would have to do that first thing in the morning, he thought. "Goov, what do you think?"

Goov considered as well, "Well, Ebra should come to direct the women, since she is your mate. And maybe Uka, Aba and Aga, since they are our clan's oldest women.

"Not Aba, she's too old to be carrying heavy loads," Droog commented, thinking about the mother of his mate.

"Ayla's already been inside, so she should help too," Grov threw in, knowing Ayla would want to be one of the women chosen to come in.

Brun nodded. "All right," he said, "Ebra, Uka, Aga and Ayla, and let's add Ika, Ovra, Oga, Eka and Uga. It will be hard work."

With their decision made, the men marched through the chilled cave toward the main entrance, emerging on the other side. The men stood in the cave opening for many moments, watching the people below, before they were noticed. It was Ora that squealed her delight at the sight of Grov.

"Ooooohh, Groooovv," the one year old baby said. Ayla spun around, surprised to see the men back so soon. She didn't know the herd was on the steppes, just on the other side of the cave, but she was glad the men were back, andthat they could rest assured that the cave was theirs. Grov's position in front, along with Goov and Vorn, told her that the mixed man had made a kill. She smiled at the man, who was beaming right back at her.

The people jumped up, knowing the hunt had been successful even through there was no evidence. They were all very excited. Brun commanded that wood be collected, and that a feast be started.

Ebra ushered the children, boys and girls, to collect wood, while Aba and Uka started the women going with the cooking. The women were wondering about the hunt, as they didn't have anything to cook yet, but they got to work on boiling water and collecting vegetation for the meal.

When wood was collected, Grod and Droog went back into the cave to light the fires as Brun had instructed them. It did not take them long, and Brun called the woman that would retrieve the meat. "Goov will take you through the cave to get the meat. Do not touch anything, except the meat, until we have moved in. Do you understand?" He said looking pointedly at Ayla.

Ayla blushed, but knew he was only warning her against something she would have done had she not been told.

With Goov and Grov, the women entered the mysterious cave with wideeyed amazement.

XxX

Amazement (originally posted on 27 September, 2003)

Ebra, Uka, Aga and Ika entered first, and looked around excitedly. Their hands were flying with movement as they speculated where each hearth may be. "We will each have private space," Ebra observed. They had never had real privacy before.

Ayla, Ovra and Oga walked behind the four older women. "Ayla, you said it was big, but I never imagined that it would be thishuge," Oga gestured, wide eyed at the first medicine woman.

"Yes Oga, it is amazing, isn't it," Ayla replied? Ovra just followed along, completely speechless.

And finally, Eka and Uga brought up the rear. As their eyes scanned the monstrous cavern, with niches large enough to house large families, both women gasped, with downright shock. Their clan had lived in small caves that lay very close together in the sandy banks near the river they had been traveling along. This cave seemed unreal to them. It was unreal to all!

When he woman arrived at the place where the men had stored the animals, they were astounded to find two of the rather huge Megaceros; a buck and a pregnant doe. Ebra, Uka, Aga and Ika went to work on the female, while the others worked on the male.

First, they removed their antlers, setting them aside for other uses. Then they skinned the beasts, and put the hides down to carry the meat. Ebra removed the fetus from the female, gutted it, and placed it on the hide. Fetal meat was always a tender treat.

When they had butchered as much as they would need for the feast, they dragged the hide to the cave entrance, and down to where the people congregated, leaving the rest of the meat where it was until the following day. At a mere 43 degrees Fahrenheit, the meat would keep until the next day.

Down below, the festivities had already begun, but the reappearance of the women loaded up with Megaceros was a welcomed sight.

Zoug had made himself useful by bringing down two ptarmigan, and he received a grateful look from Ayla when he brought her the birds, along with a few eggs. The old man was quite appreciative of the young woman's dish. Because of Creb's liking for the birds, Ayla had perfected Iza's ptarmigan recipe. The birds were stuffed with herbs and edible greens that nested their own whole eggs, and wrapped in wild grape leaves, the savory fowl were cooking in a smaller stone-lined pit. Hares and giant hamsters, skinned and skewered, were roasting over hot coals, and mounds of tiny, fresh wild strawberries glistened bright red in the sun.

By evening, delicious smells were drifting away from the several fires where food was cooking, and pervading the area near the cave. Utensils and other cooking paraphernalia that had been salvaged from their former cave and carried in the bundles by the women had been unpacked. Finely made, tightly woven waterproof baskets of subtle texture and design, created by slight alterations in weaving, were used to dip water from the pool and as cooking post and containers. Wooden bowls were used in similar ways. Rib bones were stirrers, large flat pelvic bones were plates and platters along with thin sections of logs. Jaw and head bones were ladles, cups, and bowls. Birchbark glued together with balsam gun, some reinforced with a well-placed knot of sinew, were folded into shapes for many uses.

In an animal hide, hung from a thong-lashed frame set over a fire, a savory broth bubbled. Careful watch was kept to make sure the liquid didn't boil down too far. As long as the level of boiling broth was above the level reached by the flames, it kept the temperature of the skin pot too low to burn.

This time, it was Igra and the new girl Orga that watched Ayla stir up chunks of the meat and bone from the neck of the Megaceros that were cooking with wild onion, salty coltsfoot, and other herbs. Ayla tasted it, then offered the girls a sample, then added milkweed buds, small immature yams, cranberries carried from the other cave, and wilted flowers from the previous day's growth of day lilies for thickening.

The hard fibrous old roots of cattails had been crushed and the fibers separated sand removed. Dried blueberries they had carried with them and parched ground grains were added to the resulting starch that settled in the bottom of the baskets of cold water. Lumps of the flat, dark, unleavened bread were cook in on hot stones near the fire. Pigweed greens, lamb's-quarter, young clover, and dandelion leaves seasoned with coltsfoot were cooking in another pot, and a sauce of dried, tart apples mixed with wild rose petals and a lucky find of honey steamed near another fire.

It was a feast worthy of the occasion

, just as it had been nine years before.

As the long shadows of the late afternoon sun lay across the red soil that fronted the cave, a hush of anticipation descended on the clan. Everyone gathered around the large pit in which the haunches of Megaceros were cooking. Ebra and Uka began removing the warm soil from the top. They pulled back limp, scorched leaves and exposed the sacrificial beast in a cloud of mouth-watering steam. So tender it almost fell from the bones, the meat was carefully raised. To Ebra, as the leader's mate, fell the duty of carving and serving, but this time, the first piece would not go to her son. Instead, Goov, Grov and Vorn stood in front accepting their portion, and receiving honor for their kills.

Ovra and Uba's eyes shone with pride for the kills of the mates, as did Ayla's for Grov.

Off to the side, Broud was glowering at the mixed man who had slipped into hisclan. The former leader did not even see that two other men were receiving honor as well. He only saw Grov, and couldn't stand that they would be living with these deformed people among them. What kind of status will we have at the next clan gathering, he thought disgustedly? Having Ayla was bad enough!

She was the real problem, he thought. If only she would have stayed dead. What kind of spirit keeps returning after a death curse?

XxX

Hearth Decisions (originally posted on 27 September, 2003)

That night, the clan stayed up very late; later than ever before. They ate and drank and told stories, and speculated on where their lives would go from then on. That was actually quite the miracle; for the clan had made an extreme change. No clan before thought so far into the future. Everything they knew was in their memories.

The next morning Brun and Goov rose early, so that they could go inside the cave and make plans for their new cave. The two men lit torches and entered the cave to begin their discussion.

"We must have a mating ceremony before we move in. I want to give Uga and her son to Dorg; she was previously mated to his brother, so I think it is a good match," Brun said. "Then, I will give Oda to Norv, since they come from the same clan. Speaking of their clan, Nouz is a man, I am told, but we have no young women yet. Maybe Igra will be a woman soon."

At this point, the leader paused, looking worried.

"What is it Brun," Goov asked.

"I would like to give Ayla to Grov. That medicine woman has been alone for too long, but that is just the problem. Is it better that she only concentrate on her medicine? What if she is unhappy as his mate and we are all hurt by her unhappiness? Could that happen? I mean, she is just a woman; it doesn't matter what makes her happy, does it?"

Goov considered the leader's questions, then replied, "Brun, you are right, she is just a woman, but it is good to consider her feelings as well. Take Ovra, for instance, I would not want to take a second mate, just to have a child at my hearth, because it would wound Ovra so, but it is time to mate Ayla to someone, and Grov seems interested. And, I believe Ayla is interested in him as well. I will work.

Brun was relieved that they had the mating plans out of the way. Then they moved on to the hearths. "So, I want to keep the older members of our clan together," he gestured indicating the far right-hand wall. "And then, Vorn and Borg, on this side," he said pointing to the opposite wall. Goov was nodding in agreement.

"And where would you like your hearth to be Mog-ur?"

Goov walked down the western corridor, taking in the niches as he went. "I believe I should be between the main cave of people and the area where the others will be. I will take this one," he said indicating the second hearth on the left side of the passageway.

Brun grunted, thinking that the Mog-ur had made a good choice. "All right, I will put Corg next to you, and Norv across from him, since they are from the same cave. Sometimes changes are easier if there is something familiar."

Goov was nodding at the leader's insight. That was what made Brun a good leader, he thought.

Then they continued down the passageway into the next open area. "We will put Dorg, Daub and Grov in here, for the same reason. Grov and Ayla will take this hearth," he gestured, pointing at the largest one, which connected to another hearth. "The first ranked medicine woman should have space to work her magic, and house her patients. Oga can stay with them too, after their initial separation time, of course. Until then, Oga and the boys can stay at my hearth. That will make Ebra happy."

Goov grunted, he had always considered the needs of their medicine woman important. Then it struck him, "Brun, what about Broud?"

The leader frowned at the Mog-ur. "If I give him his own hearth, then who will cook for him? If I place him in someone else's hearth, then they have to deal with him."

Goov looked thoughtful, "well, I think he should have his own hearth. There is always plenty of food to go around. I think he will do fine."

Brun nodded, his indecision gone, "we will place Broud between Borg and the main cave entrance." And, he thought further, that way I can keep an eye on him.

As the two men exited the cave, the leader felt great relief. He had placed everyone, and mated everyone. Well, everyone except Oga, but he had come up with a temporary solution for her as well.

"Dorg, Norv and Grov," Brun called as soon as they joined the clan again, gesturing that they should follow him up to the cave. The three men followed their leader into the cave.

"Norv, I will be giving Oda to you, and this will be your hearth," he said coming up on the man's new hearth. "You may go back out now." The young man left promptly.

"Dorg, I will be giving you Uga, and this will by yourhearth. You may leave the cave now." The man glanced at Grov as he left, knowing that his friend would be getting the woman he wanted as well.

"And Grov, Ayla will be yours, and this hearth belongs to both of you." Grov did not miss that the hearth was not just his, he knew that the first ranked medicine woman had status of her own, and he didn't care. "Grov, understand that Ayla has never had a mate before, she may need to be reprimanded often until she knows her place. You may go back out now."

Grov walked back out slowly. Reprimand Ayla, he wouldn't dream of it, he thought. She was just the way he wanted her.

XxX

The Mating Ceremony (originally posted on 28 September, 2003)

When Brun returned to the clan, he called them to order. They all knew what was coming; the move into the cave, but only Brun, Goov and the three men that were to be mated, knew that there would be a mating ceremony first. However, when Goov came up behind Brun, dressed in Creb's ceremonial bearskin cloak, the people suddenly understood what was to happen.

For this ceremony, and this one alone, yellow ochre was used in the sacred ointment.Goov stood waiting with Dorg, while Brun went to retrieve Uga. She figured that she would be given to him; after all, she had been mated to his brother, and the two of them had become very close since Dreg's death in the earthquake. Uga walked closely behind Brun, and sat down cross-legged in front of Dorg, keeping her eyes down.

With silent formal gestures, Mog-ur again addressed the spirits, then de dipped his middle finger into the bowl of dun –yellow paste and drew the sign of Uga's totem over the scar of Dorg's totem mark, symbolizing the union of their spirits. Dipping again into the ointment, he painted Dorg's mark over hers, following the outline of the scar and blurring her mark, showing his dominance.

"Spirit of Red Tailed Hawk, Totem of Dorg, your sign has overcome Spirit of Lark, Totem of Uga," Mog-ur gestured. "May Ursus allow that it will always be so. Dorg, do you accept this woman?"

Dorg answered by tapping Uga shoulder, and the woman jumped up, readily accepting her mate, as if she had a choice. They left immediately and went into the cave to their new hearth.

Next, Goov turned to Norv, and Brun turned to go back for Oda, but Corg stepped up. She was, after all, his sibling. Brun retreated, accepting the man's feelings for his sibling. Oda came forward and sat down cross-legged, just as Uga had.

Again, the Mog-ur addressed the spirits, dipping his finger in the yellow pasted, and drawing the sign of Oda's totem over the scar of Norv's totem mark. Then, in reverse, he painted Norv's mark over hers, again blurring out her mark to show his dominance.

"Spirit of Moose, Totem of Norv, your sign has overcome Spirit of Hamster, Totem of Oda," Mog-ur gestured. "May Ursus allow that it will always be so. Norv, do you accept this woman?"

Norv also answered with a tap on Oda's shoulder, and they retreated to the cave.

And finally, Grov came forward and waited with the Mog-ur, while Brun made his way through the crowd toward Grov's intended mate. Everyone seemed to know who he was walking towards, except the one that was being given to him; Ayla. When Brun stopped at the woman, she blanched, completely unaware that she was finally going to be a mated woman. She smiled, despite her anxiety and fear, and followed behind the leader. When they arrived at the Mog-ur, she dropped into the customary cross-legged position and waited, wishing Creb and Iza were there to see her becoming a mated woman; a single tear slide down her cheek.

Mog-ur went through the same motions establishing dominance of Grov over Ayla, quietly thinking that no one could dominate this woman, no matter their totem.

"Spirit of Leopard, Totem of Grov, your sign has overcome Spirit of Cave Lion, Totem of Ayla," Mog-ur gestured. "May Ursus allow that it will always be so. Grov, do you accept this woman?"

Grov had tapped Ayla's shoulder before the Mog-ur had completed his gestures, and took Ayla's hand to lead her toward the cave and their new hearth.

Ayla stared at the man as they walked, scrutinizing him for the first time. She had known he was mixed, but she hadn't really thought of it much. She knew he had blue eyes; that had been the first thing she had learned about the man. She knew he smiled, just like her, and that he had brown hair, though lighter than the rest of the clan. She looked at the man very closely, and she decided that he definitely looked more like her than he did Durc. He must have more Others in him than clan, she thought. And finally, she noticed for the first time that this man, her mate, was not shorter than her, he was at least a whole hand's length taller.

The three couples would remain isolated, confined to the heath for fourteen days, during which time they would sleep separately. At the end of the isolation, a ceremony would be held by the men in the men's ceremonial cave to cement the union. The children of the mated couples would be allowed to come and go, but everyone else was to stay away.


End of Part ONE!

As stated at the top of this page, there are TEN parts to this. However, part ten is unfinished...and I hardly ever update it anymore. Sorry!

Further, it took me over an hour to transfer part one from the site where I originally posted it to here, so it might be a while before I transfer parts two through ten (as most of them are longer than part one). I promise that I'll eventually get it all moved over.

Thanks for reading and for your patience!