"Thonolan travels the next world now, Folara," he said, "and I wouldn't be here if it weren't for that woman."
"Oh, Jondé! What happened?"
"It's a long story, and this is not the time to tell it," he said, but he had to smile at the name she called him. It was her personal nickname for him. "I haven't heard that name since I left. Now I know I'm home. How is everyone, Folara? Is Mother all right? And Willamar?"
"They're both fine. Mother gave us a scare a couple of years ago. But Zelandoni worked her special magic, and she seems fine now. Come and see for yourself," she said, taking his hand and starting to lead him the rest of the way up the path.
Jondalar turned and waved at Ayla, trying to let her know that he would be back soon. He hated leaving her there alone with the animals, but he needed to see his mother, to see for himself that she was all right. That "scare" bothered him, and he needed to talk to people about the animals. He and Ayla had both come to realize how strange and frightening it was to most people to see animals that did not run away from them.
People knew animals. All the people they had met on their Journey hunted them, and most honored or paid homage to them or their spirits in one way or another. Animals had been observed carefully for as long as anyone could remember. People knew the environments they favored and the foods they liked, their migration patterns and seasonal movements, their birthing periods and rutting schedules. But no one had ever tried to touch a living, breathing animal in a friendly way. No one had ever tried to tie a rope around the head of any animal and lead it around. No one had ever tried to tame an animal, or even imagined that it could be done.
As pleased as these people were to see a kinsman return from a long Journey--especially one that few ever expected to see again--the tame animals were such an unknown phenomenon that their first reaction was fear. It was so strange, so inexplicable, so far beyond their experience or imagination that it could not be natural. It had to be unnatural, supernatural. The only thing that kept many of them from running and hiding, or attempting to kill the fearsome animals, was that Jondalar, whom they knew, had arrived with them, and he was striding up the path from Wood River with his sister, looking perfectly normal under the bright light of the sun.
Folara had shown some courage rushing forward the way she had, but she was young and had the fearlessness of youth. And she was so pleased to see her brother, who had always been a special favorite, that she couldn't wait. Jondalar would never do anything to harm her and he didn't fear the animals.
Ayla watched from the foot of the path while people surrounded Jondalar, welcoming him with smiles, hugs, kisses, pats, handshakes using both hands, and many words. She noticed a hugely fat woman, a brown-haired man whom Jondalar hugged, and an older woman whom he greeted warmly and then kept his arm around. Probably his mother, she thought, and wondered what the woman would think of her.
These people were his family, his kin, his friends, people he had grown up with. She was a stranger, a disturbing stranger who brought animals and who knew what other threatening foreign ways and outrageous ideas. Would they accept her? What if they didn't? She couldn't go back, her people lived more than a year's travel to the east. Jondalar had promised that he would leave with her if she wanted--or was forced--to go, but that was before he saw everyone, before he was greeted so warmly. How would he feel now?
She felt a nudge from behind and reached up to stroke Whinney's sturdy neck, grateful that her friend had reminded her that she was not alone. When she lived in the valley, after she left the Clan, for a long time the horse had been her only companion. She hadn't noticed the slack in Whinney's rope as the horse moved closer to her, but she gave Racer a bit more lead. The mare and her offspring usually found friendship and comfort in each other, but when the mare came into season it had disturbed their usual pattern.
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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