Chapter 40: Home
The next few weeks were a busy time for everyone at the Ninth Cave. Every day the hunters went out for the migrating herds of Bison and Elk to add to their winter supplies. In a very short time most of the herds would have passed south of them, then the snow would come and virtually all hunting would cease until the warmer weather returned.
During this time between fall and winter, most of the women were out all day too, for this was the time to harvest the bounty that nature had manufactured during their summer away. Over these last few weeks there was a wealth of foodstuffs for the taking. Fall berries and grains, pine nuts and fodder for the horses. It always seemed that they could never bring in enough sun dried grass and grains for the horses to last through a long winter. Grains were harder to store but were essential and much of what was brought in this time of year would be reserved for the horses.
Once, when horses were scarce, they had been kept in a corral at the southern edge of the Ninth Cave's great ledge, but when more of the people began to catch their own horses, it soon became obvious that there would not be enough room for all of them within the main enclosure. The problem was solved by moving the corral south to one of the unoccupied caves near Down River. Only one of the caves had really been used by craftsmen in that area before and the cave chosen for the horses was close enough for easy access even in the worst of winter storms. Storage lofts were built here to hold the dried grass and tripods were made to hold hide bags of grains.
That fall, Jonayla and Cambarre with some of the other horse owners their age, built several more sturdy corrals, enlarging what had already been there. Jonayla's plan for the coming year - after the baby came - was to concentrate on building her herd and then trying to breed them. She felt that hunting young colts was not the best way to build a herd; that letting nature take its course and birthing young horses would be more efficient than hunting them.
She had even mentioned this to Cambarre and her mother, asking that she might be excused from her duties as an Acolyte for a time, in order to stay behind to build her herd. After all, she had explained, if she was not going to trade her horses at next year's Summer Meeting, why take them all the way north to the Nineteenth Cave only to bring them all back south again.
Unknown to them all, Jonayla was changing the future of summer gatherings by her actions that spring. In the future more and more people would breed horses and eventually many of those people would need to stay behind to tend their herds and before long whole families would only visit Summer Meetings for a short time each year. This type of behavioral change would eventually bring to an end the large gatherings that had served the people so well before the mobility that horses had brought.
Melodene would be having her child around the same time as Jonayla and both she and Willamar were willing to stay behind with Jonayla and Cambarre that summer to help. Willamar said that he wasn't all that interested in traveling anymore, having traveled more than most people, all his life, having been a master trader. He would be content to stay behind and enjoy a quiet summer with the newborns.
Melodene confirmed this when she said, "There are nothing but unhappy memories for me in the north. I would be much happier just staying here. I could help with the elderly who can't make the journey and also help Jonayla and Cambarre by watching their baby while they're out working with the horses."
Ayla agreed that it would be pointless to herd the animals all the way up north if her daughter's intent was to keep them for breeding. She would miss having Jonayla by her side all summer, but agreed that if she wished to stay behind, that it would be alright.
Within a full moon of their arrival home, the meat was dried and seasoned and the grains, berries and nuts were stored away. Everyone began looking to the sky each day as the dawns came a little later than the day before. One day there was a coating of frost on the rocks beside the trail leading down to the valley. Then on another morning there was a dusting of snow across the valley floor and everyone knew that the time for hunting and gathering food was at an end.
Soon snow blanketed the earth. Familiar features were smothered and the game herds were all but gone. The younger hunters would still trek to the valley floor and sometimes journey into Wooded Valley looking for game, but everyone knew that winter had gripped the land and wouldn't release it again until the Mother won her battle against cold winter. They also knew that there would be enough food to survive the winter with some to spare. Even with the turmoil of last summer in the north, they'd had many successful hunts and most of the caves would weather the winter quite comfortably.
Ralev and his troupe of storytellers had settled into the dwelling that Jondalar had originally built for Lanidar and Lanoga and her siblings who had now moved to Lanidar's home cave. Willamar and Melodene, of course, had moved in together, occupying his dwelling and Melodene, having been fascinated by Marthona's special weaving frame, began to try her hand at it. Some of the other women, including Ayla who also weaved, had helped her learn the craft.
Cambarre had had a dwelling of his own but felt it was too small and insubstantial for a man with a mate and a child on the way. When Jondalar suggested that he consider building a new dwelling Cambarre was eager to begin. The whole family helped, including Joharran and Proleva and even Jaradal when he wasn't leading a hunt.
Life soon settled into a pattern that would be maintained through the long winter days and nights. The only reason for leaving the main cave area now would be to tend to the horses' needs or to gather firewood and if it was a clear day, check the snares that were set close by for the small animals that would add some fresh meat to their diet.
Wolf pup training became an issue. Ayla had forgotten what a small wolf could get up to. Her old friend Wolf had been so well trained and so comfortable with people that he'd fit right in when they first arrived at the Ninth Cave. Now with this addition of three young wolf pups, the training was a full time job. Keeping the two older pups out of other people's dwellings and belongings became a chore. Sky was young enough to remain in Jondalar and Ayla's dwelling and was less trouble.
Even with the problems the small animals caused, many people where thinking of getting their own. Most of the adults had seen what a help Wolf had been to their Zelandoni and her mate in hunting and some hoped that they might gain a pup when these animals were old enough to breed.
Winter was a time for making things, repairing things and for improvements to dwellings and communal areas of the cave. Ayla spent much of her spare time working on interior panels for Jonayla and Cambarre's dwelling. The panels had been completed and now stood inside against the walls, adding a sound barrier, but they were still unadorned. Ayla had decided to reproduce some of the designs she'd seen when she and Jondalar had visited other people along the way on their journey from the east.
She spent extra time on these panels, making sure they were just right. Some of the designs were totally foreign to the Zelandonii, but she was sure that her daughter would appreciate them because of their uniqueness. In the back of her mind, she wanted to leave something physical behind, something beautiful that would outlast her. Many of the panels in the Zelandonii dwellings were ancient and had been made by ancestors.
Several important ceremonies were observed during this time, the winter solstice being one of them. The Zelandonia were responsible for tracking movement of the sun and moon, which represented the Mother and Her lunar mate Lumi. Also during the winter time there were birth and death ceremonies to preside over.
Ayla was expected, as the sole Zelandoni of the Ninth Cave, to officiate over all of the ceremonies, which kept her busy at either planning the ceremonies or performing them. But even with all her spiritual and ceremonial responsibilities she made time for her family and close friends. Many nights she would invite guests to share a meal. On one such night, with only family members gathered, Jonayla disclosed a decision that she and Cambarre had made.
"Mother, father. Cambarre and I have decided what we will name our child," she announced. "If we have a girl we will name her Marthona after my father's mother or if it's a boy we are going to name him Dalanar after my father's father. We feel that this way we can honor them and keep their memories alive. Father's mother was a great leader and so is Dalanar, so it will give our child something to be proud of and to live up to, don't you think?"
Jondalar was surprised. He'd never thought of that before, but it did seem like a wise thing to do and it was honoring his parents and it made him proud of his daughter that she had thought of it. "That is a wonderful idea Jonayla; I know that Marthona would have been proud to lend her name to your child, as will Dalanar, if it's a boy," he said.
Ayla was happy too, she'd admired Marthona and Dalanar ever since first meeting them. The idea of naming future generations after their ancestors was appealing to her and she thought to herself that the idea might catch on, that her daughter might have come up with an idea that all the people would eventually use.
"Your idea is a wonderful one, daughter," Ayla agreed. "I can see this becoming a tradition. It's such a good idea, in fact, that it's hard to believe that no one had thought of it before this," she said, bemused.
"Well, that's not entirely true mother," Jonayla said. "I remember you telling me that Creb had named Iza's daughter after an ancestor. That stuck in my memory and I think it is what gave me the idea."
They were all silent for a time. Ayla looked into the hearth fire, remembering Iza, the Clan Medicine Woman, and her only remembered mother figure. What her daughter had said was true, Creb had named Uba after Iza's mother's mother. The thought occurred to her that the Mog-ur of her Clan just might name Uba's daughter after her mother. Then another though occurred to her. Maybe that was what they had always done, going back into the mists of time.
"That is amazing," Ayla finally said, looking up at her daughter with misty eyes. "I'd never thought of that before," She decided to leave it at that.
Durcan reached out and took a handful of pine nuts, popped some in his mouth, then said, as he chewed, "When I have a son, I'll name him Thonolan."
Everyone smiled at that, knowing that his future mate might have something to say about naming her baby, but no one mentioned anything about that because they all thought it would be a good name, especially Jondalar who still missed his brother as if his lose were only yesterday, even after all these years.
The winter wore on and the people of the Ninth Cave began to long for sunny days again. There were whole periods where no one saw the sun and periods where the snow blew horizontally coating the cliffs with snow and ice so that the people couldn't even leave the cave other than the short distance to Down River for the care of their horses. This was a time when snow barriers had to be erected at the guest hearth to block some of the ice and snow and as a wind break.
Jonayla and Melodene grew large with child as the winter aged. Cambarre and Willamar became close friends, sharing their worries and pride at their women's pregnancies. As the women reached their time of birthing the weather began to edge toward spring. There were still snow flurries from time to time, but The River in the valley below could be seen again. The snow had turned into a dry powder that blew off the ice that covered the river and the ice was thinning too, so the water below could be made out from above.
There were three foods that traditionally signified to the Zelandonii that spring was coming. When the people had access to all three of these foods, it was considered the beginning of a new warm-time that would allow the freedom of travel again.
The first foods that the Mother would offer her children were fish from the streams and rivers. When the young people from the cave began to trek down to the river below to cut holes in the thinning ice to catch fish, everyone knew the cold weather was well and truly in retreat. Other than the few animals that had been snared over the winter, fish were the first fresh food the people would eat since the winter cold had begun.
The second food, were deer and elk and the migrating animals that traveled in herds. When small herds of game began to appear, migrating north, the young hunters made the trek down to the valley floor to follow and kill animals for fresh meat.
Just as Jonayla lay in her mother's dwelling, pushing her child from between her legs, groaning in the agony of birth-giving, and while Cambarre paced just outside, bolstered by Jondalar, Joharran and Willamar, a woman came by with the third food clutched in her hands. She held wild celery, the first growing food to reach out from the warming soil, denoting that spring had arrived.
Even though Cambarre knew he had little to worry about with Ayla in attendance at their child's birth, this time was always dangerous for a woman. But in this case he knew that his mate's mother knew everything there was to know about birthing, having assisted in births more times than anyone could count.
So it came to pass that the young couple were soon proud parents of a healthy screaming baby girl and Ayla assured Cambarre that her daughter's birthing time had gone well and that Jonayla had only had contractions for a normal period of time and that this easy birth foretold that they would have more children in the future.
When Melodene gave birth to a boy some weeks later, Ayla was there for her too, as well as Jonayla. Willamar named the boy after Melodene's father, Shankar - whom she had loved - in the spirit of the family's new tradition, begun by Jonayla.
Five women from the Ninth Cave had conceived the previous summer and when the last one gave birth, a feast was held in thankfulness to the Mother. It was a very good sign from the Mother when there were no deaths from birthing or from illness during the winter and spring. The year before there had been sadness over the death of a mother and her child and the illness of their Zelandoni, but everyone pushed that sorrow away and enjoyed the good luck that these births indicated they would all have during the coming summer season.
During the thanksgiving ceremony and feast the new mothers sat in a place of honor as the people of the cave came over to them to complement them and their new babies.
Soon it was time for the trek north to the Summer Meeting once again…
Two days before they had planned to leave, late in the morning, Jondalar heard a commotion coming from the front of the cave. He had been kneeling over the many spearheads and knife blades he'd produced during the long cold winter moons to trade during the summer for things he knew they would need.
As he stood, Ayla pulled the hide covering aside and looked excitedly into their dwelling and seeing Jondalar she said, "They're saying that people from the Lanzadonii have arrive, come quick, let's see who they are." The hide door drape dropped and Ayla was gone.
As Jondalar made his way to the guest hearth he heard excided voices and a man saying, "...and we will be there by the end of this moon. Dalanar asks that the Ninth Cave keep a place for the Lanzadonii close to them."
Approaching the guest hearth through the crowd, Jondalar recognized Robonar, hunt leader of the Lanzadonii. Once pressing news had been exchanged and everyone knew that the Lanzadonii would attend this year's Summer Meeting, the crowd of people began to drift back to their packing and sorting for the trip to the north.
Ayla had been sitting close to the Lanzadonii hunter taking in all his words eagerly. She had been wishing that there were a way to see her extended family to the east and now there was this opportunity. "Robonar, please share a meal with us, you must be tired and we have plenty of space in our dwelling for you," she assured the Lanzadonii hunt leader.
"Yes, please come with us and rest," Jondalar said. "I would like very much to hear how everyone is doing. It's been too long since I've seen Dalanar and everyone. So much has happened over the past few years we haven't been able to get away long enough to make the journey there," he concluded, while leading Robonar to their dwelling.
As the Zelandonii hunter leaned back with a full belly and a contented look on his face he said, "That was good cooking, I don't remember every tasting Elk steak with spices like that before, it was wonderful." He took a swallow of the exquisite tea with a raspberry taste to it and wondered how they had captured that flavor, "And this tea is so unusual," he concluded.
"I'm glad you like it. It is made with baskin flower buds and dried raspberries. The baskin has a taste similar to raspberries and it increases the raspberry flavor," Ayla said.
"Yes, I keep forgetting that some of these foods and spices that Ayla uses are unknown to other people. I can tell you that it is always a treat eating her meals," Jondalar chuckled.
Robonar looked from one to the other of the couple before him and thought to himself that he would enjoy being in Jondalar's place. Of course he'd met this woman before some time ago and had heard interesting things about her from time to time, but he'd forgotten how attractive she was. She had to be close to forty summers by know but she still looked excitingly health and vibrant.
Ayla couldn't hold back any longer, now that the hunter had eaten, she had to know more about how everyone of her extended family were doing. Being a healer her most urgent question was asked first. "How does Joplaya fare? Has she had more children since we've seen her? It's been five summers since we've heard anything from the Lanzadonii." Ayla felt a pang of guilt that it had been that long since she'd looked into the startling green eyes of her friend and extended family member. She had never for one moment forgotten Joplaya's sorrow. A sorrow that could not be resolved, since it was based upon her lover for her close sibling Jondalar.
"Joplaya and Echozar do well. It is said that her trouble in birthing their boy, Bokovan, has made it unlikely that they will have more children. We all remember how much trouble she had at that birthing so maybe the Mother is watching out for her," Robonar replied solemnly.
Ayla sighed inwardly; it was probably for the best, although she knew that Joplaya would be sad at that outcome and probably also Echozar, although he had been very frightened when he saw how much trouble Joplaya had in the birthing of their son.
"And Dalanar and Jerika? What of them, do they fare will also?" Jondalar asked.
"Yes, both are fine, although we lost Ahnlay, Hochaman's mate last winter, but she had been in failing health after her mate died almost, ten years ago now. But Dalanar is still strong, although he and I are beginning to feel our age, that we can't deny," he concluded, smiling.
"I'm happy that the Lanzadonii have decided to attend out Summer Meeting this year but I'm also surprised since I know it is Dalanar's intent to grow his people and to make his own Summer Meetings," Ayla said.
"Yes that is true and this may be the last time we do, but I think that Dalanar and some of the other Lanzadonii in both caves would like to visit a larger gathering to trade and maybe find mates outside our own people. I think that is the real reason that we will be attending this year. In another year or two we will have three caves and it might not be so important to travel so far again."
"Well, I'm glad that the Lanzadonii are coming this year. Maybe in the future our family can attend your Summer Meeting, I think I would like that. I sometimes miss traveling with just family and I will always like seeing new or faraway places," Ayla said sincerely.
Ayla and Jondalar asked the Lanzadonii hunt leader to stay and travel to the Summer Meeting with them but he said that it had been decided that he should return as soon as possible so that he could let his people know where the meeting would be help this summer. It would save the Lanzadonii time knowing that the river trail was altered and they could turn north sooner to take the eastern ridge trail.
Ayla and Jondalar could see the sense in that and didn't try to change his mind about coming with them. Jondalar assured him that they would do their best to find the perfect place for them close by the Ninth Cave's campsite.
Soon it was time for the people of the Ninth Cave to leave for the north. They all wanted what had become their traditional place when the Summer Meeting was held in the Nineteenth Cave's vicinity. Joharran hadn't waited for the trek north before dispatching hunters, including his son Jaradal to the north to mark out their campsite so they wouldn't lose it to another cave.
The people would leave the next morning for the four day trek north. At least most of them would. This year, there were more than ever staying behind for various reasons.
Although now that the Lanzadonii were attending, Jonayla assured her mother that she and Cambarre would come north for a few days to visit. Jonayla even suggested that she and Cambarre and their daughter Marthona might visit the Lanzadonii Summer Meeting next year if her mother would allow her Acolyte to be away long enough to make the journey there and back and also time enough for a brief stay.
Jondalar opened his eyes. It was dawn and he recognized the enticing aroma of Ayla's Elk stew. He could tell it was her recipe from the peppery fragrance. He caught the scent of mint tea too, as he raised himself onto one elbow.
Jonayla was there, baby Marthona strapped to her back as she helped her mother carry the last parcels to the travois that was being loaded for the short trip to the corrals. This was it. In a few hours, almost the whole community would be on the move to the Summer Meeting again.
He drew himself out of the warmth of their shared furs, remembering the pleasures they had shared the night before. It would be days before they had the privacy to enjoy themselves like that again, he thought, as he stood to don the travel clothing that Ayla had laid out for him the night before.
Their sleeping space was sectioned off from the main area of their dwelling by a reed panel with taut hide panels that were painted with traditional Zelandonii symbols and hunting scenes. The panels had been painted by Jondalar's mother when he had first built their dwelling. These panels weren't as tall as Jondalar, so the top of his head could be seen from the main area when he stood.
"Ah ha! Finally, sleepyhead has awakened!"
He smiled at Ayla's playful teasing. "It's your fault," he teased back as he emerged from their sleeping space. "You tired me out last night."
Ayla looked into his eyes and gave him one of her pleased smiles, "I'm just glad that you still find pleasures with me to your liking."
"I'll never tire of them, nor of you woman. You were made for me by the Mother, you fit me like no one ever did before," he said, meaning every word he said.
He'd always been well endowed and because he had been tall and good looking, he'd had a lot of experience with women and one of the things he'd learned, was that many women couldn't comfortably take all of his manhood. But Ayla had, right from the very first, and she'd been eager and always willing to share herself with him. Every time he thought about it, he felt truly blessed.
"Why don't you come over here and have some stew. I also made your mint tea. If this year is the same as all the others we won't be getting away until nearly mid-day, but I won't be the one to hold things up. While you eat, Jonayla and I will be loading the travois and Durc is bringing the horses up from the corrals."
"Where's Sky?" Jondalar asked, not seeing the young white wolf in his spot by the door.
"He and Blackie are trailing around after Durc. I'm proud of how well both Jonayla and Durc have trained their animals. They really are very patient with them."
"Yes, well I'm not surprised at all. They're your children after all," Jondalar said. "They aren't afraid of hard work and they know the value of doing things right."
"They learned those things from both of us," Ayla replied. "Now eat your meal and then help us load up." She said the last part as she stepped through the door to the outside with her arms full of parcels.
True to her estimate, the sun was well up in the sky before the people began to assemble in the valley below. This year there would still be many people traveling on foot, but now more than ever, most people wanted their own horses and there would be brisk trading at the Summer Meeting. It wouldn't be too many more years before everyone who traveled beyond the immediate vicinity of the Ninth Cave would be mounted.
Jondalar looked over his shoulder at Ayla's call. "Yes Ayla, what do you need?"
"I need you. Let's take a walk. It will still be some time before the slowest to prepare are ready to go and I need some peace and quiet for a few moments."
He didn't say anything, but turned and walked over to her. Taking her hand in his, he led her out of the cave and around to the side where the path wound up past the waste area and on up to the place where the rock pinnacle jutted out from the earth. When the weather permitted they sometimes went there to find quiet and to just sit and look out over the vast valley below.
On this day they climbed, gratefully leaving the noise and bustle behind. Soon it was as quiet, as if nothing unusual were happening that day. They came out at the top of the path and stepped over to stand with their backs to the pinnacle as they'd done many times before.
It was a clear spring day and it looked as if they could see forever. The air was still brisk but not too cold, as they stood there side by side. Jondalar, looking out over the vista before them, reached out and gripped Ayla's hand in his. She turned to face him and he looked into her eyes and smiled. He noticed tiny little lines at the edge of her eyes, laugh lines, he thought.
She was getting older but had lost none of her attractiveness as far as he was concerned. Even when younger women teased him, trying to interest him, he thought of how much he loved his mate and how much happiness she'd given him over the years. But the deepest feeling he experienced when he looked into her blue-grey eyes, was pride. Pride that she felt he was worthy of her and pride in who she was and in her accomplishments.
He also felt awe. She had given him and in fact all the people, so much, while never trying to gain from it, never reminding anyone of her gifts of knowledge like most people would have. All she'd ever wanted was to fit into the Zelandonii life. And she'd done that, he thought; she'd done that for sure.
Ayla in her turn looked into Jondalar's brilliant-blue eyes; eyes that had always captivated her, even the very first moment she'd seen them open after his near death from the cave lion attack so many year before. She'd gloried in her nearness to him and in his manliness. He'd been the first of her kind she'd ever met and since then, having met many men of her race, she was still convinced that he was the best example of a man that there was to be found.
They had had their ups and downs, she reflected, but in the end their love and mutual need for each other had won out over any conflict that might have arisen in their relationship. And besides, even at almost forty summers, he was still the handsomest man she knew. He could still make her blood surge and her heart beat faster when he looked at her in his special way.
Jondalar, put his arm around Ayla's waist, and pulled her to him hugging her close, feeling the warmth of her body next to his. She was tall enough so that a few stray strands of her dark blonde hair tickled his cheek as the wind picked at it.
"Jondalar," Ayla said in a quiet voice. "I feel like we're living in the perfect moment and I don't want to move from this spot. I don't want this," she indicated the vista in front of them and then toward themselves with a deft wave of her hand, "to change."
"I know what you mean Ayla, neither do I. Sometimes I think that if I died at any moment, I would go to the Mother completely satisfied with my life, that I couldn't ask for anything more than I'd already received."
Just then their attention was taken by a distant cry, a cry of the wilderness, a wolf's call to its mate, the cry seemed to echo across the valley. Then an answering cry came from closer by.
"I miss Wolf," Ayla said. "And Whinney and Iza and Creb and Marthona..."
Jondalar stood holding Ayla, then said in reply, "Something to look forward to when it's our turn to walk in the Spirit World. They'll all be there waiting for us, Thonolan too."
And with that they began the descent to the noisy activity below to begin the trek to the Summer Meeting once again.
When I began this FanFic novel I had to decide how to narrate the story. I could have had Ayla sitting by the hearth in her dwelling, in extreme old age, telling her story to the young people gathered around her. Instead I decided to leave Ayla and her mate Jondalar a hopeful future stretching before them, while still answering some of the many questions that hadn't been broached in the original series. The other books in the series were all set in the here and now and I felt I shouldn't break away from that format.
Since I set the story some 15 years after Ayla's arrival in the valley of the Zelandonii and by this time she had been a full-fledged Zelandoni spiritual leader for at least 10 years, I couldn't leave her the innocent that she'd been in the first 5 books. After all, people do mature and I felt I owed it to the character to let her grow up, though I did try to remain faithful to her selfless attitude and honest personality.
Since the setting was 30,000 to 35,000 years ago, I had no alternative but to allow for a shorter lifespan for both people and animals, therefore Jonayla's mating at the tender age of 17, (or even earlier) would have been a reality of the time as well as the passing of Ayla's Wolf and Whinney. Both issues somewhat distressing to write, but I felt it was necessary.
"Oh, and one last thing. If you enjoyed my novel, or even if you didn't, please take a moment to write a brief review. This is the only feedback I get and it's much appreciated."