Reader's Note: For easier reading I suggest going to the tools just below the author icon at the left hand side of this page and enlarging the text and using the 'story line spacing' tool to bring the paragraphs together. It really makes a difference.
The characters and theme of this FanFic novel belong to Jean Auel and it is not my intention to profit in any way from this work. Like all FanFic authors I fell in love with the characters and the Earth Children series of books and tried my hand at writing an alternative final book for the series.
I have tried to remain faithful to the original series; so you will encounter sex and violence, but somewhat less than in the original series. I felt that if I wanted to continue the story in a recognizable form I couldn't ignore what had come before or change the writing style beyond eliminating some repetition.
As you read this book - if you're familiar with the original series - you will notice that I have eliminated the overlong travelogues as well as the repeated use of the Mother's Prayer other than a few parts of it when it became essential to the story. The only other obvious change was that I reduced the title of; "The First Among Those Who Serve The Great Earth Mother" to the "First Zelandoni" since it has to be used so many times during the story and the longer title had always been a bit clunky in my opinion.
"The Sacred Mountain" is my idea of what a seventh book might look like. It is set about ten years in the future beyond the end of book six. In this novel, some of the issues brought up in previous books are explored and answers are supplied to some of the lingering questions that were not answered in the original series of books.
Writing this novel was a year-long effort (mostly on Saturdays and Sundays) and would not have happened if it weren't for ecfans, a forum for fans of the series and a place I went to in my original disappointment with book six in the series. They gave me the idea to write my own version of the final book and so I did.
I'm not a professional writer, but I do know how to write, I've tried to proofread this work but if I have missed any errors or you find an awkward sentence or expressed thought, I apologize. I wrote this book for my own enjoyment, but I hope you get some enjoyment out of it too.
Finally, I would like to thank my wife Carole and my brother Charles for their proofreading and editing services and Attila who is a Hungarian physician and a fan of the Earth's Children series, for correcting my inaccuracies.
A full version of this novel is available in PDF form online. Although I am not allowed to post web addresses on this site, you can easily find it by searching these parameters: The Sacred Mountain, a novel by Andy Black. You should see a link close to the top of the first page of your search results.
Chapter 1: Death
Rubio crouched at the edge of the forest waiting. He'd been there most of the day and now the sun was low on the horizon. He nervously shifted his position and wondered for the hundredth time when the Doniers would arrive.
At eleven summers, Rubio was old enough to be trusted with tasks of responsibility and this one was important. As a member of the Two Wolf Lodge, a summer place where his people from Old Valley Cave stayed when they cleaned and maintained the sacred gathering place of the Zelandonia, he knew what his responsibilities were.
The sacred gathering place that his cave was responsible for was situated at some elevation in the eastern hills, and one hill, taller than all the others, was recognized by all of the Zelandonii people as the Mother's Sacred Mountain. This mountain held the innermost sanctum where important matters of the Spirit World were dwelt with by their spiritual leaders. In this place, deep within the mountain was a small cave, one that was called the Revelation Chamber and it belonged to the Mother Herself.
As son of the leader of Old Valley Cave, Rubio had been assigned as one of the three children to alert the elders cleaning the sacred site and laying in supplies in preparation for the Doniers arrival.
Two Wolf Lodge had been responsible for the care and maintenance of the sacred place for as long as anyone could remember. This was the one continuously occupied area south of Old Valley used as a ceremonial gathering place for the spiritual leaders of the Zelandonii people, and had been, for so long, that no one knew when they had first begun to use it.
As the young boy waited, he reflected on the many times his people had made the regular trips to clean and care for the cave and its surrounding area. Growing up, he had often wondered why his people regularly made the trip to maintain something that was so seldom used, in fact, had not been used since before he was born.
Rubio suddenly realized why the sacred place was so important, why his Cave had taken such efforts to keep everything repaired and ready for use. This would be the place where all the Zelandonia from all the Caves came to choose a new spiritual leader from among themselves. The old First Zelandoni had always been there as far as Rubio was concerned and when she had died, making all this necessary, it made him realize that what he had always thought of as permanent, wasn't, and that was a scary thought.
He'd heard that when his father was a young man there had been a Donier gathering to choose the First Zelandoni, whose remains were now being carried back to be placed with those who had been First before her.
Rubio knew that the coming event would be one of the most important in his life. The Zelandonii people were without a spiritual leader and that was very unlucky. The one who had been first among the Zelandoni, and now walked the spirit world, had been dead for more than a full moon now. That change, that death, Rubio reflected, was why they were all here, waiting for the bonfire beacon on the far side of the valley to be lit, showing that the Donier procession had reached that point. That would be his signal to run as fast as he could to alert the elders working on the mountain.
It suddenly came to the boy that this was what all the work was for. Important decisions and ceremonies would take place here that would affect all of the Zelandonii and he felt a flush of pride that the people of his cave were the ones who kept the sacred complex ready for just such an important event as this.
Everybody knew that there were troubles in the north and that conflict was on the rise. Rubio had heard the stories from traders to the valley. Since the First Zelandoni become ill, things hadn't gone well for the peace in the north, a peace that had always reigned in the region before this time. But now big things were happening. All the Doniers from both the north and south holdings were journeying to Old Valley and Sacred Mountain to bury their dead leader and to elect a new one.
Rubio shivered with excitement. He would be in the center of it all. Since he had not yet passed his eleventh summer, he was young enough to serve those spiritual leaders who would attend. There were eight children from Two Wolf Lodge that would serve because they knew the area and had been carefully trained as Donier Helpers in the necessary traditions. Also, maybe just as important was because they were young enough and had not yet reached puberty. This was important, he knew, because a mature person who was not Zelandoni might pollute the ceremonies with their untrained adult passions.
For the first time in his life, Rubio felt important, but he also felt the heavy responsibility of his position as leader of the Donier Helpers. He led those who would serve the Zelandonia and their Acolytes, who would be in the meetings and performing ceremonies almost constantly while they stayed on the mountain.
The boy shaded his eyes from the orange-red glare of the sinking sun as it touched the horizon. Was that smoke he saw? He perked up and stood straining his eyes. He couldn't be sure, but he knew as dusk fell that if it was the beacon on the other side of the valley, he would be able to see the flame as it grew darker.
Seeing the signal this late in the day would mean that the Donier procession would probably halt overnight and enter the sacred site the next morning. He knew that this would be the best possible outcome, for it would give Two Wolf Lodge one more evening to put everything in order and to leave the area in the morning at a convenient time for everyone.
As day turned into purple dusk, heading into night, the excited boy saw a tiny flicker of light. He stood on his toes straining to see across the valley. He wasn't sure if it was the bonfire beacon or not. He'd never actually seen one before from this distance. He thought it must be. But what if some hunters were passing the head of the valley and had made a campfire?
Just as he had that thought, the flame flared up brightly as if extra fuel had been added. It had to be a large fire, bigger than anyone would make for a camp. Rubio immediately tuned on his heal and began to race toward his father and his people.
They were coming! The Zelandonia were bringing their First Zelandoni's remains to help guide her spirit to the Spirit World. It was more than exciting now; it was frightening to have all those who dealt with spirits so close and to be among them for days and days. It was too much to think about so Rubio just concentrated on his footing as he ran. This was no time to trip and hurt himself when an event this important was on their doorstep.
Ayla was bone-weary as she slid from Summer Child's back. Her horse stood connected to an A-frame travois that had been colored red with sacred dyes. The group of Zelandonia and their Acolytes were stopping a little late in the day but they had all agreed to make it far enough that day so they could enter the sacred site the next morning and have most of the day to set up camp and rest in preparation for the difficult days to come.
Ayla loosened the straps of the travois to free her horse from its weight. The warm proximity of the animal made her reflect upon her past horse friends, those who she still missed so much. They had lived long and happy lives and she would always remember them with fond feelings and regret for their loss. At one time her Whinney had been the only friend and companion she'd had to fill the gaping loneliness in her life. Summer Child was second daughter to her faithful friend Whinney, who now walked the Spirit World with her first son Racer.
Thinking these sad thoughts she looked down at the bundle on the travois. All that was left of her teacher and friend were ashes in a jar of fired stone, now wrapped in a red dyed rawhide covering. Another loss; first her horse friends and now her teacher and mentor. It had been a difficult time for everyone as the First Zelandoni became ill and over time had wasted away. The illness started shortly after Marthona's death - Jondalar's mother.
The first sign of her illness had been a rapid loss of weight. When initially, the cave had noticed the change in the First Zelandoni, it was little commented on, it was spring and many members of the cave might lose some weight during the lean full moons of winter when fatty foods became scarce. But Ayla's instincts had told her that there was something more going on. Soon she was plying the First Zelandoni with her herbal medicines, using her prodigious knowledge of the healing arts.
The First Zelandoni had known she was ill, she had seen the same symptoms in others, people who she had nursed and she knew what the outcome of her illness would be. But she allowed her colleague to ply her with her medicines and as an accomplished healer herself, she used the opportunity to test her body's reaction to the younger woman's cures and how they affected her, and to share her observations as any healer might under the same circumstances.
As the illness progressed the First Zelandoni began to discuss the future with Ayla, trying to convince her to ready herself for the challenges that would come to her after she walked the Spirit World. Almost from the very beginning of her illness she had tried to convince the younger Donier that the important issue at hand, wasn't her health, but that Ayla should be ready for the challenges that would face the people after she was gone. "Times are becoming difficult and you are the answer, I'm sure of it." It was a refrain that Ayla would hear again and again, even from the Donier's deathbed.
Ayla hadn't wanted to hear that unrest in the north between the Clan and her adopted Zelandonii was becoming a problem. There had been reports of deaths on both sides. The First Zelandoni should have been the one to investigate the trouble and to work out a solution, but she had become weaker and the journey was put off, full moon after full moon phase passed. It was finally decided that she would travel north in the summer, only by then as summer neared, she was too weak to make the journey.
The trouble was real, Ayla knew that. Even when she tried to ignore the implication, and the constant pressure coming from her friend and leader, she knew deep down inside that she must accept a more direct role in events. Ever since the third time she had used the Sacred Clan root that she had brought away from the east, all she needed to do to enter the Spirit World was to take a mild stimulating tea made from Absinthe, that she called her Dreaming Tea. These trance journeys seemed to show her images of future events. At first she didn't quite know what the images meant, but when something would happen later that she had dreamed about, she understood that her dream image had predicted the event.
In the beginning, almost ten summers before, the First Zelandoni had tried to follow Ayla on a trance journey and had taken the Clan root too, but beyond a mild stimulation and heightened awareness, the effects on the older woman were unremarkable. Finally she had realized that this was a unique condition that only her young colleague could control and so she encouraged the younger woman to continue the practice and share the dream images with her.
Over the past winter Ayla had seen more and more violence in her trance-induced dreams, the images indicated that if nothing was done, more lives would be lost and the violence would escalate. She knew the truth of it, but knowing the truth didn't make her feel any better or any more confident in her ability to convince the other Doniers that she should serve her people as the First Zelandoni among them.
"Mother?" Ayla looked up to see her daughter dismounting her horse with a look of concern as she hurried to her mother's side. "Mother, are you all right? I know you're sad, but lately it seems that your mind has been in the Spirit World and not with us. I wish you had let Wolf come with us, you know how he always lifts your spirits."
"Sweetheart, you know that Wolf is just too old to make a journey of several days, it would be very hard on him. He was born almost eighteen summers ago, that's quite an exceptional age for a wolf. Besides, Jondalar and your brother need someone to look after them while we're gone, don't you think."
"I know all that, but I still miss him. I also know being here, he would make you happier," said Jonayla, who was Acolyte of the Zelandoni of the Ninth Cave and Ayla's self-assured daughter. "There would be no prohibition against it, like there is for my brother or for father. Wolf is almost considered Zelandoni."
"I do have a lot on my mind just now daughter," Ayla said, to change the subject. "I'm not sure how I can live up to the First Zelandoni's expectations of me. I don't see how I can convince the others that I should be their leader. I wasn't born to the Zelandonii people and that will be a big impediment that I can't really see a way around. I want to do what my teacher urged me to do, I just worry." She smiled at her sixteen-year-old daughter to soften her words. No reason to frighten the child more than she had already.
"Mother, you know that you can do anything you put your mind to. You've been telling both Durcan and me that just about from the day we were born. I have complete confidence in you, I know you'll come up with a way to make the others see what's needed and I'm not just saying that because you're my mother, I'm saying it because I know it's the truth."
Ayla hugged her earnest young daughter. What was she worrying about? Jonayla was as fierce an advocate as anyone in the Donier procession. She didn't have to worry about frightening her or making her feel insecure. She felt a little ashamed; what she had to worry about was not letting her old mentor down. What she mustn't do was to let her people down. She would find a way.
"You're right of course. I'm going to finish unhitching the travois and give Summer Child a rubdown; you should do the same for Gray. Then we can organize some food."
"Not necessary, the Donier of Two Rivers has taken charge of that task. Look." Jonayla pointed to the group of people in the clearing, all Doniers and Acolytes. Several Acolytes were bringing stones to form a hearth circle and several others were foraging for firewood while the Donier of the Third Cave oversaw the effort. It was a very domestic scene and it surprised Ayla at first. Domesticity wasn't something she was used to when it came to her fellow spiritual leaders; although since the First Zelandoni's passing her fellow Doniers had been quite subdued and had tried to be helpful to each other.
Now as the sole Donier of the Ninth Cave, Ayla was responsible for planning the procession to Sacred Mountain, situated at the eastern edge of Old Valley and had been surprised when she had received runners from all the close caves that their Doniers wanted to join her. As this procession was the sole concern of the Zelandoni, and since the First Zelandoni had been their leader too, they felt they should join in and help. And besides, they said, there would be meetings to choose a new leader in a few days and the passing spirit ceremony anyway, so why not travel together.
The journey had started at dawn three days before. A trip that would normally be completed overnight on horseback, was slowed by necessity. Travois slowed the horses and although the Doniers from Two Rivers, Little Valley and River Place had joined the procession from the start, other Doniers had traveled west and south to meet them on the trail so that as many of them as could, would arrive together. These meetings on the trail had slowed the procession further but had built solidarity of purpose.
Other Caves to the far north and far south were to meet them within the week. Runners had been sent from Elder Hearth to all the outlying caves - as was their responsibility when an important meeting of the Zelandonia was to take place. It had always been tradition that the Elder Cave send runners to inform the people of any meeting held on Sacred Mountain, especially when a First Zelandoni's spirit was to be guided to the Spirit World and a choice for a new First was to take place.
Ayla had noticed that the procession had not run across any fresh human tracks to indicate that any group of people had traveled the river trail recently, so she was pretty sure that they would be the first group to reach Old Valley from the southern route. Ayla was especially relieved that there was no indication of other travelers; she wanted to arrive before the others if possible. She wasn't looking forward to the confrontations that would be sure to arise as she made her claim to the position of First Zelandoni and being first there would give her a small advantage.
Ayla was finishing up Summer Child's curry as the smell of meat grilling on the cooking fire reached her. She'd been fasting all day and the enticing smells made her mouth water. Over the next few days she would not eat much and knew that she shouldn't miss a meal now if she wanted to be in shape for the approaching rigors.
"Donier of the Ninth, sit here beside me," the Zelandoni of the Third Cave called as Ayla was packing the grooming implements away in her carry basket. As she found a place beside the elderly man she was handed a bone platter with succulent pieces of Roe Deer cut into chunks cooked with greens and a baked tuber.
"Thank you Zelandoni, the food you have prepared looks very tasty, we're all grateful to you for taking charge of setting up the campsite. Lately I seem to forget that I'm hungry until I smell food cooking," Ayla said, grateful for the food.
"I know," said the old man. "I think you should take better care of yourself, you have so much to do at the gathering. I'm counting on you to convince the others that you're the right choice for our new First Zelandoni. It's so important that we have a resourceful leader in these times. And if you don't eat and pay attention to your health you won't be strong enough to endure all the arguing and bickering that will go on at the gathering."
Ayla looked into the eyes of the man sitting next to her, "Why are you supporting me?" she asked. "You could just as easily be a candidate yourself. Why not you? I wasn't even born to the Zelandonii."
"Because you're the right choice. If not you, then who? I know that the Donier of Horsehead Rock as well as Elder Hearth have put themselves forward, but you're the obvious choice. You know the Clan better than anyone else, while at the same time, you're one of us. Who better to lead us? Who better to sort out this trouble in the north between the Clan and our Zelandonii brethren? I don't like the violence and I want it to stop."
Ayla noticed that the Third used the term Clan, rather than the more derogatory "flathead" when describing the people in the north. "I thank you Zelandoni," she said, meaning it. "I just hope you're right. I can't help but feel hesitant; it's all a bit overwhelming to me."
"Well, I suggest you keep that thought to yourself, it won't do to let the other Doniers know that you're not sure of your calling to lead us."
"I understand what you're saying, but I also believe that anyone who is so sure of their abilities that they have no doubts, might be more dangerous to the peace and well-being of the Zelandonii people who are relying on them to make the hard decisions, than someone willing to admit they don't have all the answers."
"See, that's why I'm behind you. You have always talked sense; you've never pretended to be something more than you are. And frankly, who you are is pretty impressive. How old are you now Zelandoni?"
"I count thirty-six summers, I believe. And I will try to be circumspect with my innermost feelings around the others, but I would like to consider you a friend and adviser that I can trust and confide in. I know that I will have to make decisions and do things that I haven't had to do before if I'm chosen and it would be very helpful to have someone to talk to."
"You can count on me for as long as I'm able. I've lived almost sixty summers now and I don't expect to go on forever, but I'll help you any way I can, especially through this."
"I'm glad. I feel that we have been friends for a long time now. Even when I first arrived with Jondalar as a stranger, you were kind to me and you've been a great help to me since the First Zelandoni died. I very much appreciate your help, I think your sixty summers of experience are just what I need now."
The elderly Zelandoni of the Third Cave had helped Ayla with the cremation, as was tradition when a First Zelandoni passed to the Spirit World. It had been done this way for as long as anyone could remember. Since the ceremonies for interment of a First Zelandoni took more than a full moon phase, cremation was the only practical way to handle the remains. Also those who were first among the Zelandonia were not actually buried like everyone else, but rested for all time in a special place for veneration, adding their accumulated power to the sacred Zelandonia gathering area.
"You know, I still remember when you first talked me into riding that horse of yours. And when you gave me a colt to train," the Third said, with a smile of remembrance. "It's hard to believe that only fifteen years ago no one we knew rode horses. That alone should be a reason to make you our new First Zelandoni. You have brought the Zelandonii people more than anyone I can think of in my sixty summers on this earth."
At that moment Jonayla walked over. "My I sit with you, or are you talking about something private?" She asked her mother.
"Certainly daughter, sit." Ayla gestured to Jonayla to sit beside her. "I'm glad you decided to become an Acolyte Jonayla. It's good to have you with me now and that would not have been possible if you hadn't made that decision. That's what the Donier of the Third Cave and I were just discussing. Support, something I will need now more than ever."
Jonayla looked at the Donier of the Third Cave questioningly. "Yes, young Acolyte, I will support your mother. And further, I will support her vocally with the others. I can't imagine what would happen to the Zelandonii people if we didn't make this wise woman the leader of the spiritual aspect of our lives. Bless her, but the First Zelandoni was ill for too long. Things have gone wrong in that time, things that should have been attended to. I think your mother is the only one with the wisdom and experience to put things right. With her help, everything will be resolved for the best."
The Donier of the Third Cave turned to Ayla, "I just hope we don't have too many candidates from the southern caves. I don't know what they will do, or even if they might form a conclave of all six southern caves to support their own candidate. I think they were satisfied with our past spiritual leader, but I also think they wouldn't be unhappy to have someone from their area as First Zelandoni for a change."
"Well," Ayla said. "If that happens and they succeed, who's to say that it isn't for the best. All I can say is that I'll do my best to convince our fellow Doniers that I feel the calling to be the one to represent them. Even if I don't become First Zelandoni, maybe I can influence the person who is. No matter what happens, I think I should be the one to negotiate between the Clan and the affected caves in the north." Having said that, Ayla suggested that they turn in for the night as the next day would be a trying one.
Jonayla bedded down next to her mother, fervently wishing that she could do more to help, but as a new Acolyte, all she really could do was to offer lovingly support to her mother. To Jonayla, her mother was all that was good and strong and just in a person. There had never been a time in her life that she hadn't worshiped her mother for the exceptional human being that she was.