People were gathering on the limestone ledge, looking down at them warily. No one made a gesture of welcome, and some held spears in positions of readiness if not actual threat. The young woman could almost feel their edgy fear. She watched from the bottom of the path as more people crowded together on the ledge, staring down, many more than she thought there would be. She had seen that reluctance to greet them from other people they had met on their Journey. It's not just them, she told herself, it's always that way in the beginning. But she felt uneasy.
The tall man jumped down from the back of the young stallion. He was neither reluctant nor uneasy, but he hesitated for a moment, holding the stallion's halter rope. He turned around and noticed that she was hanging back. "Ayla, will you hold Racer's rope? He seems nervous," he said, then looked up at the ledge. "I guess they do, too."
She nodded, lifted her leg over, slid down from the mare's back, and took the rope. In addition to the tension of seeing strange people, the young brown horse was still agitated around his dam. She was no longer in heat, but residual odors still clung from her encounter with the herd stallion. Ayla held the halter rope of the brown male close, but gave the dun-yellow mare a long lead, and stood between them. She considered giving Whinney her head; her horse was more accustomed to large groups of strangers now, and was not usually high-strung, but she seemed nervous, too. That throng of people would make anyone nervous.
When the wolf appeared, Ayla heard sounds of agitation and alarm from the ledge in front of the cave--if it could be called a cave. She'd never seen one quite like it. Wolf pressed against the side of her leg and moved somewhat in front of her, suspiciously defensive; she could feel the vibration of his barely audible growl. He was much more guarded around strangers now than he had been when they began their long Journey a year before, but he had been little more than a puppy then, and he had become more protective of her after some perilous experiences.
As the man strode up the incline toward the apprehensive people, he showed no fear, but the woman was glad for the opportunity to wait behind and observe them before she had to meet them. She'd been expecting--dreading--this moment for more than a year, and first impressions were important . . . on both sides.
Though others held back, a young woman rushed toward him. Jondalar recognized his younger sister immediately, though the pretty girl had blossomed into a beautiful young woman during the five years of his absence.
"Jondalar! I knew it was you!" she said, flinging herself at him. "You finally came home!"
He gave her a big hug, then picked her up and swung her around in his enthusiasm. "Folara, I am so happy to see you!" He put her down and looked at her at arms' length. "But you've grown. You were just a girl when I left; now you're a beautiful woman . . . just as I always knew you'd be," he said, with slightly more than a brotherly glint in his eye.
She smiled at him, looked into his unbelievably vivid blue eyes and was drawn by their magnetism. She felt herself flush, not from his compliment, although that's what those standing nearby thought, but from the rush of attraction she felt for the man, brother or not, whom she had not seen for many years. She had heard stories of her handsome big brother with the unusual eyes who could charm any woman, but her memory was of a tall adoring playmate who was willing to go along with any game or activity she wanted to play. This was the first time as a young woman that she was exposed to the full effect of his unconscious charisma. Jondalar noticed her reaction and smiled warmly at her sweet confusion.
She glanced away toward the bottom of the path near the small river. "Who is that woman, Jondé?" she asked, "and where did the animals come from? Animals run away from people; why don't those animals run away from her? Is she a Zelandoni? Has she Called them?" Then she frowned. "Where's Thonolan?" She took a sharp breath at the look of pain that tightened Jondalar's brow.
Excerpted from The Shelters of Stone by Jean M. Auel Copyright 2002 by Jean M. Auel. Excerpted by permission of Crown, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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