Actions

Work Header

An Earth's Children Fantasy

Work Text:

"An Earth’s Children Fantasy"

Baraman finished his work, put down his flint tools, and stretched his back. He was standing on a wooden platform lashed together with sinew, on a scaffold set into pits in the ground. All around him were small bowls of bone and stone, filled with hunks of red ocher and black manganese. The flickering light of the animal fat lamps made the painted creatures that surrounded him appear alive. He climbed down, and picking up a lamp, made his way toward daylight.

He walked out of the cave, looked up at a perfect blue sky on this fine early Fall day and was immediately greeted by his students. There was Hochaman, (who was named after the Great Wanderer of the Lanzadonii), Gailandar, his brother, and young Lorana, the newest apprentice. They all crowded around the older man, laughing and trying to get his attention with shouts of “Look how much we got done today! The paintings look wonderful!” “Can we have the day off tomorrow and go swimming?” “The salmon are fat this time of year-I want to go fishing!” “Surely Donii will let us skip one day!” Baraman laughed, shaking his head, and said, “You three are impossible!” He knew how dedicated they were, they had been working hard getting the newest gallery in the Sacred Cave ready, almost nonstop since their return a few weeks ago from the Summer Meeting, and the work was nearly completed. ‘Perhaps a day off would do us all good,’ he thought to himself. “All right, you convinced me, you can be off tomorrow, but make sure you are here early on the day after” he said to them. The four artists started back up the path to their Cliffside home in the 7th Cave of the Zelandonii, enjoying their friendship and camaraderie.

Later that night he sat before his fire, lonely. Evenings were the worst, now that he was alone at the hearth. After three years he still missed his mate, although time had blunted the edges of his grief. He was very grateful that two children of his hearth were well and happy, but he did not see them often now that they were grown. His daughter had mated a Lanzadonii man and now lived among them, and his son was the Hunt Leader of the 12th cave, a man with heavy responsibilities. ‘I don’t have to stay lonely tonight,’ he mused to himself with a smile, so he quietly got up and made his way to the hearth of Donora.

He took stock on the way, and decided that he was holding up pretty well in spite of his age; his shoulders were still straight, his frame still wiry and strong, and his silvering hair still thick. He wondered about his eyes; for their green color was unusual among his people. Although he couldn’t see it, others noticed see the intelligence, humor, and the spark of creativity immediately. His feelings for Donora were still so new, so special-he was not sure where they were leading, but she made his heart glad. The unexpected romance during his twilight years made him feel young again, and since she had lost her mate only a year ago, Baraman understood what she was going through; how she felt. She greeted him warmly after he scratched on the leather drape that hung in the doorway of her wood-framed hide living area inside the cave.

“And how was your day?” she asked as she stirred up the fire and started the cooking stones heating for tea, “I guess you didn’t hurt yourself-you appear to still be in one piece!” “I am pretty good, old woman!” he replied with a grin. They loved to tease each other, but in reality she was lovely, slender, her hair white, and her eyes crinkled with laughter. She and her mate had raised a brood of children, and now she was helping to oversee an ever-increasing group of grandchildren. She was a jovial woman who had lived a good productive life, secure of her place in the world. To Baraman, she was refreshing.

He had loved his mate, but she was quiet, unemotional and melancholy. For most of their life together he only caught occasional glimpses of the carefree, fun loving girl she had once been. He had tried to make a life with her, but their early passion had cooled. Having such fiery feelings for Donora at his age took him completely by surprise.

The next workday dawned rainy and colder. Baraman was glad they had decided to take off yesterday; the weather had been beautiful. He and Donora spent the day on the bank of the river with others from their Cave, swimming, eating, fishing, working on everyday projects, and enjoying the antics of his students and other young people. But today was a perfect day to be inside the Sacred Cave working. Picking up a fresh lamp, he climbed to the top of the scaffolding and contemplated the blank rock wall before him.

He started with a bold black line, his left hand carving into the rock using a flint burin tipped with a mixture of crushed black manganese and rendered fat. The form of a leaping red deer stag began to grow on the wall under his expert touch. He used the natural shape of the wall-a section with a soft rounding became its haunches, a crack formed the basis of the antlers. This was Baramans’ gift, the ability to look at an uneven rock wall and see the shapes that Donii had placed within it. All around him red deer, bison, horses and antelope ran, swam, and herded together. Lines, patterns of dots and handprints blown onto the wall through reeds, recorded hunting tallies, births and deaths among the Caves, and the changing of the Seasons. The Painters of the Sacred Caves recorded important events in the lives of the Zelandonii in code on the walls, and showed the amazing abundance of the Mother in the galleries.

After the outline of the stag was finished he set two of his students to filling in the colored areas, using the reed tubes and carved wooden troughs to blow the coloring onto the wall. He and Lorana moved to another scaffold and started on the centerpiece of this gallery, a huge leaping cave lion. Most of the animals represented on the walls were herding animals that were hunted for meat and furs, but in a few places, fierce predators were portrayed. “Now,” Baraman was saying to her, “Pay close attention to the line of the creature’s back; it sets the tone for the whole piece. A poor drawing cannot be fixed, even with expert coloring.” “Yes,” replied Lorana, “I have seen examples of what you mean, they always look bad. Baraman, for this lion I think we should use that brown patch on the wall for the shoulder muscles, it looks right, and this crack in the limestone wall will become his tail, look, it even has a brown splotch for his tail tuft.” Baraman looked at her, surprised and pleased. “That is exactly right! You are learning to See very well!” For just an instant, the earnest look on her young face jogged a memory…he pushed it away ruthlessly, and, turning to her with an overly bright smile, continued the lesson until he felt his emotional response fade. Teaching had become one of his favorite duties. He lavished love and attention on his students, and their work showed it. The two artists continued to work on the cave lion. Baraman was glad to see Lorana so animated. She had just come to live with the leaders of the 7th Cave when it was discovered she had the painting talent, and he was happy to see her getting over her initial shyness. The day flew by, and he willingly dismissed his students in the early evening, pleased with their progress.

Baraman returned to his hearth. Late that evening he prepared his meal and visited with Donora. The rain had blown itself out, the sky cleared, and the light of the moon illuminated his way back to the Sacred Cave. Once inside, he journeyed past the finished galleries to a place no other living person had ever seen. This far hall of the cave could only be reached by moving aside a flat plate of rock and crawling under a low archway; and after he came through it he stood in the midst of a crowd of painted human faces.

Humans were almost never painted on the main gallery walls; it was believed that the portrayal of a specific person’s image would capture their spirit and make them vulnerable to evildoers. He personally thought that this was a load of rubbish, and did not see any difference in portraying people or animals. Everything around him was in his mind part of the wondrous Creation, and he privately recorded many of the important events of his People in this special place, as well as images of family members and faces that interested him. He often felt that completing this secret work was his great mission in life. Tonight he had in mind a painting of his new found love Donora, and he soon had the image of her softly lined face roughed out on the wall.

A few days later Baraman stood with his students, their Zelandonii, and the leader of the 7th Cave in the new gallery, admiring the finished paintings in the flickering firelight. “Wonderful, just wonderful!” their leader Philomar said. “And you have finished it in time! Groups are coming from the 9th and 10th Caves, for trading and feasting. We can hold the First Viewing Ceremony in this gallery with our friends. You and your students can be proud!”

It was half a moon later. Baraman was sitting in a large group, listening to stories of hunting and trading missions, news of the other Caves, and especially to Jondalar of the 9th Cave, telling the tale of the great Journey that he and his mate Ayla had made to reach home. They had traveled all the way from the land of the Mamutoi! Baraman knew Joconan, Jondalar’s mother’s original mate, and was sorry to hear that the son of his hearth, Thonolan, had died on the brother’s way West. But Jondalar had not returned alone; he arrived home with a beautiful Mamutoi woman, Ayla, who had wondrous control over animals. They had crossed the land riding on the backs of two horses, and a huge wolf was their constant companion. She sat now near her mate, with their baby daughter on her lap, enjoying the night of celebration.

Baraman had met them briefly at the previous year’s Summer Meeting, during the Matrimonial ceremonies, but did not really know them. He hoped to change that soon, so when the evening was breaking up, he asked the young couple to share a meal with him and Donora the next day.

“That was wonderful,” Ayla was saying to Donora, “I haven’t eaten partridge cooked that way before.” The small group had enjoyed their meal outside, and was sitting chatting together while the baby crawled all over them. “You have been blessed with a beautiful child,” Donora was saying, “She is so happy and healthy, and I think she really takes after you, Jondalar.” “Yes,” he replied, “Ayla thinks Jonayla will become a healer when she grows up, but I am going to turn her into a flint knapper!” They all laughed at the joke, and then Donora asked, “How can you trust that wolf around your baby?” The large animal had been lying quietly under a tree near them, his eyes on the little girl. “Wolf is tame. From the time he was a puppy he was raised with the children of the Lion Camp,” Ayla was explaining. “He is very gentle with them, and has been protective of our child since she was born. That reminds me, I haven’t introduced him to you yet,” she said. “Wolf, come here.” Instantly he was on his feet, and she went through the usual ritual she used to introduce him.

The evening was passing quickly. They talked of many things; news of their families and the Caves, the long Journey and the many wonders Ayla and Jondalar had seen. When the baby started fussing, Ayla settled back to nurse her, and Donora moved over to sit close by. The two women started talking about babies; Donora was asking Ayla about her pregnancy. “It was a very easy birth, Ayla was saying, “But I had a lot of morning sickness during the first part of it.” “I know you are a healer,” Donora asked, “What did you use to treat it? One of my daughters is going through the same thing.” Ayla suggested a few things and said that she would be glad to stop by and meet the woman, and after a while Donora confessed that she was getting a little arthritis in her hands, it was becoming harder to work hides, and she did not want anyone to know. “I am a little vain, I guess,” she was saying, “I know there is nothing shameful about getting older and having a few aches and pains, but I don’t want it announced to everyone at a Summer Meeting!” Ayla smiled, thinking of her Mamutoi friend Crozie who was the same way in regard to her age, and told Donora that she would be glad to keep the secret. They sat talking about herbal medicines, and Ayla promised to show her how to make the warm healing compresses.

While the women sat together, Baraman and Jondalar were discussing painting techniques, specifically the tools used in the process. Baraman could knap tools if he had to, it was a necessary survival skill, but it wasn’t his specialty. He went into the Cave and brought out one of his flint burins, and was pleased that Jondalar envisioned a new method of shaping the handle to make it easier to use. He promised to make his new friend some personally fitted tools, and Baraman told Jondalar that he would give him a private tour of the Sacred Cave. The two men were getting more comfortable with each other, and finally Baraman quietly asked Jondalar how Ayla was settling into her new home. He had heard stories about the hardships she had endured when she first came to the Zelandonii. “She is doing fine now,” Jondalar was saying, “But it was very hard at first. There were times that I thought we would have to leave and settle somewhere else. This is home to me, but for her, everything was unfamiliar, and she was pregnant as well. Then there was a woman whom I was Promised to before I left with my brother. She was expecting me to return and mate with her. She had never found another man, and was still living in the 9th Cave. She was always making trouble for Ayla, questioning her abilities, raising suspicions. People had doubts about Ayla’s fitness to be a Zelandonii-you may have heard how she was raised, who took her in when she lost her people so young.”

Baraman said “I don’t think there are any among us who haven’t heard that story by now. Can you imagine what it must have been like for her, being raised by Flatheads?” “Well,” Jondalar said, “One thing is for sure, she has grown up strong, and she never makes any bones about her upbringing.” “She is a courageous woman,” Baraman agreed, “I would have liked to have been there when you two stood together and faced down the council!” “Yes, it was quite a scene,” Jondalar was saying, “But they finally accepted her. How can anyone look at her, think about what she has been through, see her talents, how wonderful she is with our child, and think there is any abomination in her? I was never more proud of her than when she told her story to them.”
“Yes, I can imagine,” Baraman said, “And just think, now there is even talk of starting to trade with the Flat...err, Clan. I never thought I would see that in my lifetime.” “Ayla taught me so much about them,” Jondalar said, “Did you know that they have a whole language that uses only their hands? They understand tool making, storing for Winter and healing. They even have some ideas about the Spirit World. She has made me realize that they are human after all.” Ingrained beliefs are hard to change, Baraman knew, but Ayla had a way about her, an inner strength, and an inherent ability to find the right solution. She seemed to bring out the best in the people around her. He was happy for the Zelandonii people, for they were finally starting to shed some of their old prejudices. When the evening was over, the two couples both felt that a strong bond of friendship had formed.

The next day Philomar was proudly standing in the middle of the newly completed gallery of the Sacred Cave, while Zelandonii was telling a story about the Great Earth Mother for the assembled crowd. The leader was always happy to show off the great treasure painted above them. Ayla was completely entranced. She had never even imagined anything like it. She had seen carvings, she still had the small ivory carving of Whinney that Ranec had made, and her tender portrait from Jondalar, but this amazing abundance of color and form left her stunned. “Jondalar,” she was whispering, “When you were carving the animals on our spear-throwers you were trying to describe this to me, but no one could believe it unless they saw it for themselves. It’s like the whole world is recreated under the earth. This is the most incredible thing I have ever seen!” She was even more surprised to find out that that Lorana, the young girl she had met that morning was in part responsible for the great gallery around her. Her admiration for Baraman, the old artist, grew tremendously. In her mind, he was like Creb, or Mamut, a pleasant, gentle older man, but who wielded amazing power from the Spirit World. She knew she would never forget her first time in a Sacred Cave.

Baraman and Donora spent a lot of time over the next few days with the young couple. For all of her abilities, Ayla was such a normal woman, a little shy even, not proud and arrogant like expected. She even arranged for Donora to have a ride on her horse. The gathering was filled with hunting, feasting, trading, and storytelling. Baraman and Donora were sorry to see it coming to an end, but the happy memories would help to see them through the dreary Winter days that were soon to be upon them.
The people from the 9th cave were traveling together back to their home, and they parted with the 7th cave with plans to meet again in Spring. Baraman watched them leave; it was still amazing to see their two friends riding off on horses, with the tame wolf following behind. Jondalar was riding the dark brown horse he called Racer, with his daughter behind him in a carrier. Ayla was astride the dun mare Whinney, with the mare’s pale colored young filly in tow. He watched Ayla, laughing as she urged the mare to a gallop, full of life and beautiful. It almost seemed that she and the horse were one being, molded together. The image stayed with him long after the group was out of sight.

“NO, NO, THIS IS NO GOOD!” Baraman was yelling at Gailandar a few days later. “It’s not the right image for this wall at all! What were you thinking?” He threw down the flint engraver he was using as a pointer and stalked out of the cave. His students gasped, their teacher was usually the most patient of men, but since the gathering he had become moody, mean, not himself. No view of the river at sunset, beautiful red and gold leaves, nor a perfectly painted line could satisfy him. He was restless in his soul, terribly unhappy, and did not understand why. He and Donora were sitting at her hearth, picking at a meal. She was trying to talk to him, desperate to find out what was wrong. He caught the look of sorrow in her eyes and was trying to apologize. "I am sorry, I know I’ve not been very good company lately,” he was saying, “The food was delicious as usual. I’m just not hungry.” “Baraman,” she said, gently, “This is not like you; you can’t keep on like this. You must go and see The One Who Serves; she may know what to do for you.” He agreed, so he went and talked with the young woman who served as their Spiritual leader. He came away feeling slightly calmer, hoping that Donii would honor their request and reveal the trouble to him, and soon.

Baraman woke before dawn the next morning. He rushed through his morning routine, hurrying to get down to the Sacred Cave before anyone else stirred awake. His students would not be joining him, he had given them another day off, and he hoped that the familiar task of blocking out animal shapes would ease some of the tension he was feeling. He tried to focus on the rock wall in the new gallery they were starting, but it wasn’t working. His hand shook as he tried to draw; the free flowing line would not come. He was terrified that he had somehow lost his ability forever. In despair, he ran to the entrance of the cave, and stared out at the bright meadow before him in the morning sun. His mind was reeling, desperately seeking the source of his anguish. Recent images formed in his mind’s eye, flashing past him. He saw Lorana coming to the 7th Cave…the recent gathering…befriending Ayla and Jondalar… watching them riding away…Ayla galloping off on the horse as though they were one…something nagged at him…struggling to break free…something about Ayla…

Then like a dam breaking, he fell to his knees and put his hands over his face, crying out from his soul, and years of pent-up anguish came pouring out of him. He was afraid that this day would come, for no matter how rigorously he had pushed his saddest memory away, it was always there in the background, waiting for its chance to overwhelm him. For the first time in years, he let himself think of her. Callia. Callia, the first daughter of his hearth, the child he had lost. Her face came back to him then, as a red haired, chubby, green-eyed baby, as a little girl, and then how she looked at twelve, just at the bloom of first womanhood, when her life was cut short.

He heaved a great shuddering sigh, and looked down. Without realizing it, he had gone back into the first hall of the Cave, and was on his knees feeling around behind a pile of tumbled rock, searching for a little niche in the wall. He found it, then reached in and pulled out a small leather bag. He felt inside the pouch and touched the small ivory carving for the first time in years. He took it out and wept anew at the sight of his mate’s face, carved onto a plaque of mammoth ivory by his daughter when she was only ten. Even in his suffering, his artist’s eye was amazed at the quality of it, the sureness of the line, the likeness. He poured out into his hand his daughter’s hairbrush, a necklace of carved ivory beads and shells, a piece of amber, and a flint carving burin, made just the right size for a child’s hand. Grief overwhelmed him, and he kneeled there for a long time, sobbing, with and his daughter’s possessions clutched to his breast.

Later Baraman sat in the entrance of the Sacred Cave, remembering. He realized why all of his buried feelings had come out. First it was Lorana. She had the same earnest love of learning as his Callia, she reminded him of his daughter as a young girl. The second reason was Ayla. He knew that it wasn’t because she bore any real physical resemblance to his daughter, it was more her personality, her spirit. His daughter had been unique. She was the only child of his hearth to inherit his artistic talent. She had been strong, capable, loving, funny, loyal, and fiercely protective of the weak. In Ayla he had caught a glimpse of what his little girl might have become if she had lived.

He closed his eyes as he remembered the day he had lost her. It had been a Fall day, not unlike this one, sunny after days of rain. A large group from the 7th Cave had gone far downriver to net and dry fish for Winter use. The rain-swollen river was running heavier and swifter than normal. After the day’s work, Callia, wanting some time alone, went around a bend, climbed a rock pile on the edge of the river, and was sitting working on a new carving. A large log had been swept into the pile of rocks by the fast current. It hit just right, knocking the pile apart and sending the girl into the river. She hit her head on a rock as she fell. No one saw it happen, but they all heard her scream. Baraman had been one of the first to round the bend and jump in after her, but could not find her. Everyone in the group searched for her in the water and on the banks of the river until late in the night using torches, but there was no sign of her, she was just gone. They had to stop and take up the search in the morning. When the report finally came back from one of the searchers later that day that her lifeless body had been found, Baraman fell to his knees as if he had been dealt a physical blow.

After that, his life changed. Baraman blamed himself, and his mate’s heart was broken. At the core, she was not a strong woman. She never recovered; only a pale ghost remained of the woman she had been. His other two children were very young, and his mate became unable to deal with them. He had to take up the slack, taking care of the children, tending the hearth, and giving his family the stability that they needed. He would not allow himself to think of his daughter; instead he threw himself into raising his other children while trying to cope with an unstable mate. The only things that allowed him to survive that terrible time were the support of the other people in the Cave, the prayers of the One Who Served, and his painting.

Baraman realized that he had never allowed himself to properly mourn his daughter. He sat there in the arch of the Cave entrance, and remembered how he had ruthlessly pushed Callia’s memory aside. He forced himself to be strong for the sake of his children and mate, and never really confronted his own grief. He buried the bag with her possessions in the Sacred Cave and tried to bury her memory as well. In time his natural strength had allowed him to move on, he began to enjoy his life again. Having his other two children went a long way toward healing his heart, and he had his students and his art. Eventually he found a balance. He made the best life he could for himself and his family, and could once again be happy. But the memory of Callia remained there, buried deep.

A final wave of grief came over him as he thought of his mate. How unhappy and melancholy she had become! She had made their other two children miserable with her constant sorrow. She found no peace in this life, and he hoped that she had finally found some in the Spirit World. He was sorry that the happiness that they could have had together had been taken from them. He had always hoped that she would recover, but she did not have the strength to try. He had loved her, but she was so sad that it almost seemed better for her to be dead than to live in anguish. He admitted to himself that in some ways he was happier without her, but then was deeply ashamed of himself for what he was thinking. He finally realized how angry he had been at her all those years for not trying harder. He released his last tears for the life that had been denied to them, and then finally rested, his energy spent.

Donora found him later sitting there, his face tear-streaked, holding the leather bag in his hands, exhausted. She was tender with him, urging him back up to the Cave, feeding him soup, washing his face, and sitting with him in front of the fire at her hearth. Eventually, he told her about Callia and the tragedy that had befallen his family. “You and your mate didn’t live in this Cave when Callia died, you moved here later when the 6th Cave got so overcrowded,” he was saying, “I wish you could have met her, she was wonderful, you would have loved her.” Donora was happy that he had unburdened himself, it made her understand him better, and now she knew why his mate had always seemed so miserable. “Baraman,” she said gently, “It is good that these feelings have come out of you, you are yourself again, and you are finally free. I love you. Please, let me take care of you now.” He allowed her to put him to bed at her hearth and finally slept.

The next morning, early, they were sitting quietly together, drinking tea and eating fruit. “What finally made you understand what was wrong?” Donora was asking. Baraman said, “It started when Lorana came; she is so willing to learn, and so talented. So much like Callia was at that age. And then I kept thinking about the gathering, and Ayla and Jondalar, picturing them over and over in my mind,” he said, “I finally realized that Ayla reminded me of what my Callia should have become, what she might have been like as an adult. When I saw Ayla, it forced me to remember.” “You are right,” Donora said, “She is extraordinary. I feel like I know Callia because of her. And Lorana is such a joy to be around. You were blessed to have Callia, even if it was for only a short time. You know, they say that those who are favorites of the Mother get called back to Her early, because She misses them so much. Who knows why?” Baraman was quiet for a moment, and then he said, “I will always miss my daughter, but now it’s in a different kind of way. Now I can remember the joy I felt in raising her, I can be thankful for her life. It’s like she is here with me again because I’m not afraid to remember her any more. And I’m happy that I have Lorana to teach, and that we got to know our friends from the 9th Cave. But mostly, I am happy to have you, Donora,” he said, reaching for her. “I love you, too.”

Later that morning they bathed together in the river, and then after they dressed they stretched out on the bank in the shade, looking up through the trees at the sky. “Are you going to work today?” Donora was asking him, “Or do you need some time?” “I don’t know,” he said, “I am still tired. I was laying here picturing Lorana, Ayla and Jondalar. I want to do something for them, I want to tell them about my daughter, and thank them for giving her back to me.” They were dozing off, relaxed, when he thought he heard a familiar voice whisper, “There is one great gift only you can give them…” Then sleep took him.

Donora awoke, startled, and realized she was alone on the bank. ‘Where is he? How long was I asleep?’ she thought to herself. It looked like the sun was approaching evening. She rushed up to the 7th Cave, but he was not there. She saw Lorana, and asked if Baraman had been around. “When I saw him last, he was in a hurry, he grabbed some chunks of coloring and went rushing out,” the girl said. “And Donora, he had that light in his eyes-I haven’t seen it in a while.” Donora’s heart leaped, “Come on Lorana”, she said, “Let’s go find him. He is himself again!”

The two quickly made their way down the sloping path that led to the Sacred Cave. Like the rest of her people, Donora never went there uninvited, and had never been very far inside except during Viewing Ceremonies, but this time she did not hesitate. When they were midway through the vestibule area at the mouth of the cave Lorana grabbed up lamps for each of them and led the way. They were disappointed when they reached the gallery where the four artists had been working; Baraman was not there. They stood together in the gloom wondering where he was. Donora was upset. She had been sure that Baraman would be there, back to himself and working. “Where could he be?” Lorana asked, “I was sure we would find him here!” They both started calling out, “’Baraman!” although the shouts seemed terribly loud in this Sacred Place, but he did not answer. They were making their way toward the end of the Cave, puzzled, when Lorana noticed a faint light far off to her right.

“Look, the light is coming from under that wall,” Lorana was saying as they made their way over, “Here is a way to get through, under this arch. I never noticed it before. Baraman must be in there, he could be injured. We have to try and get to him.” They crawled through the arch toward the softly glowing light, and suddenly found themselves in a large room. Baraman turned when they entered, while the two women looked up in wonder. “Great Donii!” was all Donora could cry out as she stared at the miraculous paintings of people all around her. People everywhere, doing great deeds and ordinary activities. Faces peeking out from behind cave formations, adults and children who were shown smiling down on her. She was strong colors and amazing likenesses. Neither of them knew what to say, they could only stare in awe.

Baraman was the first to break the silence. “You found my secret!” he said with a smile. “Welcome! No one else knows what I do in here when I am alone. Come; let me show you what I am working on.” He led the way to a large flat wall. He had started to rough out shapes, people and animals that looked familiar, and Donora gasped as she recognized them. “This will be my greatest work. I heard my daughter whisper the idea to me this morning while we were sleeping by the river. She said there was a great gift only I could give, and here it is. I am going to put Ayla’s life on this wall.” Lorana was confused and a little scared. She knew people’s fears about portraying humans, but these seemed so right. She had secretly longed to try it herself, but had been afraid. Now she made up her mind. “Baraman,” she said, “Teach me how to paint people. I want to learn.”

He worked like a man possessed. He was inspired, amazed. The images seemed to just appear under his hands. He knew this would be the finest work he had ever done. He paused for a moment, grateful, thanked Donii and his Callia for giving him this chance, and then got back to it with Lorana’s help. He taught her everything he knew about creating a likeness of a person, and she surprised him with her natural ability. She picked up the knack immediately, and soon the two artists felt like they were working as one.

The mural was growing under his expert hand. Baraman drew and painted without stopping. He heated some of his minerals, mixing them with the rendered fat, to deepen the color and enhance the effect. He used the new burins that Jondalar had made for him, etching the lines out that told the story of Ayla’s life. Baraman stretched himself artistically, further than ever before. Every line, every nuance was captured. He took all of his talent, all of his love for his daughter, and threw it into this work. It was as if he had taken his own great heart and painted it upon the wall.

Donora ran interference for the artists, bringing them food and supplies, and fending off well-meaning members of the Cave who wanted to know where Baraman had gone. “He is working hard,” was her standard line, “He is fine, he is over his sickness, but, she added, “He doesn’t want to be disturbed,” just in case anyone else felt the need to go looking for him. ‘I can’t paint,’ she thought to herself, ‘but I can make it easier for him to.’

He was hardly aware of the passage of time. Only dimly did it register that Donora was back with another snack, some fresh water. Donora sent Lorana back to her hearth eventually, but she sat and watched Baraman work for a long time. She knew she was seeing something unique, a special blessing from the Great Mother. It was very late when she was finally able to coax him back to the 7th Cave for a meal and rest.

The next afternoon, relaxed after a time outdoors and a good meal, they gathered together for another round of work in the Sacred Cave. Baraman and Lorana fell into their routine almost at once, and the rest of the day passed quickly. Toward evening, he sent Lorana up to the 7th Cave to retrieve Hochaman and Gailandar. As they walked down to the Sacred Cave, she told the two young men the story about Callia, and why Baraman had been acting so strangely. “Hello, you two,” Baraman said as they came under the archway, “I am sorry that I have been so angry, it really had nothing to do with you; my past caught up with me.” “It’s all right,” Gailandar said, “Lorana told us the whole story, I am glad that you found your daughter’s memory again. What is all of this?” he asked, as he looked around at the human figures on the wall. “My secret treasure,” Baraman said with a grin, “What do you think?” The old artist led the two young men on a tour of the room, and soon they asked to join in the work. “You two are welcome to help,” Baraman said, “But if you want, you can work out in the main gallery starting tomorrow. Gailandar, I’m sorry I criticized your painting; actually I really like the image that you chose for that wall. Would you and Hochaman like to finish that mural in there yourselves? You have made a great start and I know you are ready for your first solo wall panel.” He grinned over their heads at Donora as the two young men almost ran into each other in their haste to get out into the main gallery and make plans.

Baraman stood there with Donora and his students in the flickering light of the fat lamps. All around them scenes from Ayla’s life were enshrined upon the rock. The great mural was completed. Their days of working were well spent; this was the finest painting Baraman and his students had ever done. “There is only one thing left to do, and I must do this part myself,” Baraman said. He walked over to a flat area of rock near the right side of the entrance archway, carrying a sharp flint scraper, a bowl of water, and a soft leather hide in his hands. There was no picture painted there, but as they looked closer they realized that something about the brown coloring on the panel of rock looked different than the surrounding wall, it appeared to have been placed there by human hands. He bent to the wall, working carefully, and carefully began scraping and washing off a layer of flat brown pigment that had been painted thickly upon it. Small bits of color and line began to emerge as the layer was peeled back. Donora felt a chill run down her back as she watched, for underneath, the image of a lovely young girl’s smiling face was appearing.

Baraman turned to the group with tears glittering in his eyes. “This is Callia,” he said. “I painted this the year she turned twelve and entered womanhood. I didn’t know that she would be taken from me so soon. After she died I covered this portrait up; I couldn’t stand to look at it. But now she can be here with me again, watching over me.” As he turned back to look upon the image of his daughter’s beloved face, Donora silently signaled the students and the four of them crept out of the room, leaving Baraman alone with his memories.

The next morning Baraman woke up and realized that he had slept late. He took his time over his breakfast and bath, relaxed and happy. He visited for a while with some of the men of the Cave, and made plans to join in a gaming contest later in the evening. All morning long, he looked for Donora and his students, but didn’t see them. It was late morning when he finally made his way toward the Sacred Cave. On the way, he found Donora sitting working on hides with some of the other women. She smiled, and rose up to greet him. “We left you a surprise in the Cave,” she said. “I will see you later.” Curious, he went down the familiar path, through the opening, and moved toward the low archway.

A short while later he was standing in his secret gallery, smiling as he saw what his caring friends had done for him. They had drilled holes in the rock wall under his daughter’s portrait and placed wooden pegs into them, with a small wooden shelf resting on top of the pegs. A woven basket holding some dried flowers sat on the shelf, with a fresh lamp and wick resting beside it. Baraman lit the lamp, and then realized one thing was missing. He went to his work area and found the small leather bag. He poured his daughter’s possessions into his hand, and carefully arranged them on the shelf under her portrait. It seemed that her painted eyes were looking at him with happiness. “I will never forget you again,” he said to her, and looking around him at all of the painted figures he thought to himself, ‘I guess it’s time, the 7th Cave is about to have their eyes opened!’

“Philomar, I know what you are thinking,” Baraman was saying, “But Donii is not angry, and the people are in no danger from these paintings. It is our history, our legacy, on these walls. Look, here is a painting of the day you became leader, and here is our last mammoth hunt. Here are mothers with their children, and our grandfathers. This is the most important work I have ever done.” The four artists and Donora held their breath as the leader and Zelandonii walked around the secret gallery. He had tried to explain it to them this morning as they walked down to the Sacred Cave, but he was not sure if the work would be accepted. Just then, Philomar turned to him, the beginning of a grin starting on his face. “Well, old friend, you never cease to amaze me. I always wondered if you were doing something like this in secret. How long have you been painting these?”

“Years,” Baraman answered, “These pictures of my mate and children were some of the first, and we just finished this wall, it tells the story of Ayla of the 9th Cave.” Philomar had made a circuit of the room, and was now staring at Callia’s portrait. “It is good to see her again. I know how much she meant to you.” The leader looked around him for a while longer, and then finally said, “Well, what do you want to do now?” Baraman had his answer ready. “I want to send a runner to the 9th Cave, to tell Ayla and Jondalar to come. I want them to see this before Spring, and I want to make this room available to any of the Zelandonii people. I know that a lot of them won’t understand it, some may fear it, but I don’t want this work to be a secret anymore. I have had enough of secrets in my life.” Philomar thought for a moment, then looked over at the One Who Serves and said, “I will send the runner. Zelandonii, can you meditate on a ceremony to help the People understand these paintings?”

Ayla and Jondalar were staring around them in awe. Neither of them knew what to say. Ayla finally broke the silence as she turned to face Baraman. “I can’t believe this, it’s amazing. It is like seeing all of my old friends again. You have never met any of these people, how did you know how to paint them? And why would you choose to paint my life?” Baraman said, “I have told you the story of my daughter. This painting is my gift to you, because you have helped me to get my daughter back. When Jondalar was describing your Journey, and later, when we spent time together, your descriptions made me feel like I knew the people you were talking about. And your love for them came through so clearly, it helped me to know what kind of feeling to put into the pictures. I hope you are not angry with me.”

Ayla was walking around the wall, touching it in different areas. It was too much to take in all at once, but her eyes caught different parts of it as she walked by. Here were Talut and Nezzie, coming out of an earthlodge that looked like a human burrow. There was a little boy with mixed features riding on a dun colored mare, his face shining with joy. Further down the wall, Iza and Creb were sitting with a little blonde girl at their hearth. Near them, Ayla was standing on a rocky beach alone with the opening of a small cave behind her, and a young horse lying down near her. Here was Jondalar, casting a spear thrower with Ayla standing next to him in a field. And there they were together, with two loaded horses and a wolf, standing on some nameless mountaintop with the land spread out below them.

She turned to Baraman with tears in her eyes; he gently took her hand, and led her along the wall. She saw the great rocky overhang that sheltered the Sharamoudoi People, with the huge river below it, and then she saw Wolf, standing guard over the fallen body of a woman, with a strange fence of poles behind her. Here were Ayla and Jondalar at their Matrimonial, and there they were sitting at their hearth with their small daughter. She saw the immense blue of the glacier, with two people and horses looking like tiny dots on top of it, and she saw the day of their Homecoming to the Zelandonii, with all of the people of the 9th Cave gathered around. As they made their way to the last painting, Ayla realized that it was simply a picture of her riding Whinney at a gallop, but the old artist had captured their appearance, and even in paint, the beautiful woman and the racing horse seemed to be one being. “Why me?” was all that she could say, “What have I done in my life to make you want to portray me like this?” “Ayla, let me explain,” Baraman said, “Your story is full of everything that makes up a life. It has much sadness, and great happiness. You have lived through many tests and many sad partings, but also new friends along the way. You are still young, but you have lived a full life, done more than many others ever do. In a way, your story is the story of all of us, all of the Children of the Mother. It is a great legacy we can leave for those who come after us.”

They were all silent for a time, and then Ayla said, “Baraman, thank you for your wonderful gift. It means a great deal to me; seeing all of the people that have been in my life painted on this wall makes me feel close to them, like they are right here with me, even if they had to leave me long ago and I will never see most of them again. I can never repay you for what you have done.” “Ayla,” Baraman said gently, “It is I that should be thanking you. Having you here is what gave me my daughter back. Come, I want to show you Callia’s portrait.”…

Baraman was right; his work was one of the best legacies left by the Zelandonii. Eventually he and Donora mated, and visited with their friends from the 9th Cave many times. When Baraman became too old to paint in the Cave, he was happy to pass on his legacy to Lorana. Ayla and Jondalar and their children would often visit the great gallery, even after the old artist and his mate were gone, and gaze at the story told there. In time, they too were gone, but the great Painters continued their works in the Sacred Caves for many generations.

The Zelandonii continued to be a great people, but immense stretches of time followed during which their lives changed. Caves gave way to huts, then to houses, and then to villages. Humankind learned to plant crops, and raise livestock; and fight wars. The Children of the Mother were gone, only small traces remained of them in the peoples that followed. At some time during the uncountable eons an earth tremor closed off the door to Baraman’s Cave with fallen rock.

Empires rose and fell and the once proud 7th Cave of the Zelandonii became no more than an occasional stopping place for a wandering shepherd. Plagues decimated the earth, and great explorers mapped out new routes to far off lands. Humans began to develop technology, but at the same time lost much of the connection that they had to the Earth. Centuries passed, then millennia. The Stone Age was just an ancient memory, so long ago that it seemed to bear no relevance to the modern world.
In time, work was begun to search for those who had gone before. Lascaux was discovered, and Altamira Cave, and Chauvet. The great rock wall at Laugerie Haute was forced to give up its secrets. People looked at Mother figures and carved ivory beads in museum cases. But the Sacred Cave painted by Baraman was never found. Its galleries were empty, the wondrous paintings unseen. They rested there in the cool darkness, perfectly preserved, waiting.
End of Part 1

 

An Earth’s Children Fantasy, Part 2
Dordogne Valley, France, Present Day
Janet rolled over and opened her eyes. “Good Morning, Sleepyhead”, her husband Tom said as he came into their hotel room. “I brought us some tea and pastries, and found a copy of USA Today. If I have to spend the rest of the day in the Stone Age, I am going to spend as much time in the real world this morning as I can.” Janet rolled out of bed with a grin, and headed into the bathroom of their quaint room in the old stone hotel. A little while later, they sat at their small table talking. “OK, ‘I’m awake now,” Janet was saying as she sipped and read the paper. “You must admit, you are enjoying this, and you know it is a dream come true for me to be here.” “I know,” Tom was saying, “But just remember, they are only characters in those books you insist on reading over and over, they aren’t real people after all.” “Yeah, I know,” she said, “And you remember that Captain America and company aren’t real either.”

“I don’t know why,” Janet was saying, “But I feel such a connection to this place, and this river valley is so beautiful. You can see why people have always lived here. Being here makes me feel a part of it. And think about what we have seen, you can’t look at Lascaux and not realize that those were humans, same as us. They didn’t have our technology, but they understood their world very well. They made great leaps forward in art and creativity, and they knew how to paint with perspective and mystery. The things they did thousands of years ago on those cave walls were more advanced than anything that came after it for centuries.”

“I am glad you are enjoying it, and this is a beautiful place,” Tom agreed, “What is on the agenda today?” “Well,” replied Janet, “We’ve toured the Museum and the Prehistoric Park, and you, by the way, were quite handy with that spear thrower! I’d like to have another lesson in flint knapping if I have time. Today I want to go to Laugerie Basse, which I think is the model for the 9th Cave. Do you think that tiny earth tremor we had last night that they talked about on the news is going to keep any of the sites closed?” “I don’t think so,” said Tom, “I didn’t even feel it, and they said it didn’t do any damage.” “Well then, let’s go, I’m ready,” Janet said, but Tom reached for her as she started to rise. “Me big caveman!” he said with a grin, “Me want show mate new spear thrower first!” “You are really something!” was all she could say, as, laughing; they fell back onto their bed.

They sat near their rented car on the riverbank, in a beautiful spot where they had been eating their carryout picnics for a couple of days. Janet lay back on the blanket, looking up at the sky, relaxed. “Well, tomorrow is our last day here; I’ve really enjoyed our trip into history.” “I am just glad to see you so happy,” Tom replied, “It is so strange, this all seems so familiar to you, and I know you have never been here before.” “I guess it’s because of the books,” Janet said, “The characters are so interesting, it made me want to see their world in real life, or whatever is left of it.” “Sometimes you seem like you want to be there, back in the past,” Tom said, “I want you here in the future, with me!” “Don’t worry,” she said, “I know exactly who I am, we live in the modern world, I run a bookstore and you fix computers. We go to Paris the day after tomorrow for your computer convention, and you agreed to bring me with you to France so that I could see the Dordogne. We have a very happy life, but sometimes when the pressure gets too much, I read or watch movies to escape. And Jean Auel is my favorite escape!”

They were getting ready to drive on, Janet looked up toward the cliff side, and noticed a small dark opening near the bottom that wasn’t there the day before when they stopped. “LOOK!” she said, “That looks like another cave. It’s not on any of the maps, and I don’t remember seeing it there yesterday. Maybe that tremor shook the rocks loose and uncovered the opening. I want to go take a look; I know there is a flashlight in the trunk in that emergency kit that came with the rental car.”
Undaunted, she made her way up the slope, with Tom behind her, and they soon found themselves facing a jumble of rock. “I think we can get in this way,” she said. Tom moved a couple hunks of rock out of the way, and they peered in with the flashlight. “I can’t see anything,” Tom said, “Let’s be careful going in.” The cave entrance was not hard to get into, however, and as they began to walk further in, they looked up, and then gasped in wonder. Janet felt the hair stand up on the back of her neck, for they had made a great discovery.

“OH MY!” was all that she could say, and Tom just stared, unable to believe what he was seeing. He finally found his voice and said, “I think this is better than Lascaux, better than any of the other sites we visited. Can this be an undiscovered Painted Cave? Janet, we have to let the authorities know about this right away.” “We will, of course,” Janet said, “I just want to walk around for a few more minutes, I won’t touch anything. Look at this painting, this cave lion looks alive! And these horses, and deer, and handprints, no one has been in here for thousands of years and they look like they were done yesterday!”

They made plans for Tom to drive back to the Prehistoric Park and the Museum to bring word of the discovery while Janet stayed at the Cave. They had moved through several galleries by this time, and were just about to start back, when Tom noticed the dark opening under the low archway. “Do you think we can get under there, is it worth it?” “I don’t know,” Janet said, “But we can try.” They found that they could crawl under the archway quite easily and suddenly found themselves in a large room. They stood up and looked around, and then they saw the people painted on the walls. Janet felt a chill as she saw the painting of a young, lovely blonde woman galloping on the back of a dun colored horse. She turned to Tom with a smile. “I knew it, I knew it all along, this is Ayla! She was real!”
The End