More people--how could there be so many?--were looking in her direction, and Jondalar was talking earnestly with the brown-haired man, then waved at her and smiled. When he started back down, he was followed by the young woman, the brown-haired man, and a few others. Ayla took a deep breath and waited.
As they approached, the wolf's growl became louder. Ayla reached down to hold him close to her. "It's all right, Wolf," she said. "It's just Jondalar's kin." Her calming touch was a signal to him to stop growling, not to appear too threatening. The signal had been difficult to teach him, but worth the effort, especially now, she thought. She wished she knew of a touch that would calm her.
The group with Jondalar stopped a short distance away, trying not to show their trepidation or to stare at the animals that openly stared at them and held their place even when strange people approached them. Jondalar stepped into the breach.
"I think we should start with formal introductions, Joharran," he said, looking at the brown-haired man.
As Ayla dropped both halter ropes in preparation for a formal introduction, which required contact with both hands, the horses stepped back, but the wolf stayed. She noticed the glint of fear in the man's eye, although she doubted that this man was afraid of much, and glanced at Jondalar, wondering if he had a reason for wanting formal introductions immediately. She looked closely at the unfamiliar man and was suddenly reminded of Brun, the leader of the clan that she grew up with. Powerful, proud, intelligent, competent, there was little he had feared--except the world of the spirits.
"Ayla, this is Joharran, Leader of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii, son of Marthona, former Leader of the Ninth Cave, born to the hearth of Joconan, former Leader of the Ninth Cave," the tall blond man said with seriousness. Then he grinned. "Not to mention brother of Jondalar, Traveler to Distant Lands."
There were a few quick smiles. His comment relieved the tension somewhat. Strictly, in a formal introduction, a person could give the entire list of their names and ties to validate their status--all their own designations, titles and accomplishments, and all their kin and their relationships, along with their titles and accomplishments--and some did. But as a matter of practice, except in the most ceremonial of circumstances, just the primary ones were mentioned. It was not uncommon, however, for young people, especially brothers, to make jocular additions to the long and sometimes tedious recitation of one's kinships, and Jondalar was reminding his brother of past years, before he was burdened with the responsibilities of leadership.
"Joharran, this is Ayla of the Mamutoi, Member of the Lion Camp, Daughter of the Mammoth Hearth, Chosen by the Spirit of the Cave Lion, and Protected by the Cave Bear."
The brown-haired man crossed the distance between himself and the young woman and held out both hands, palms up, in the understood gesture of welcome and openhanded friendship. He did not recognize any of her ties, and he wasn't entirely sure which were most important.
"In the name of Doni, the Great Earth Mother, I welcome you, Ayla of the Mamutoi, Daughter of the Mammoth Hearth," he said.
Ayla took both his hands. "In the name of Mut, Great Mother of All, I greet you, Joharran, Leader of the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii," she said, then smiled. "And brother of the traveler Jondalar."
Joharran noticed first that she spoke his language well, but with an unusual accent, and then he became conscious of her strange clothing and her foreign look, but when she smiled, he smiled back. Partly because she had showed her understanding of Jondalar's remark and let Joharran know that his brother was important to her, but mostly because he could not resist her smile.
Ayla was an attractive woman by anyone's standards: she was tall, had a firm, well-shaped body, long, dark blond hair that tended to wave, clear blue-gray eyes, and fine features, though of a slightly different character than those of Zelandonii women. But when she smiled, it was as if the sun had cast a special beam on her that lit each feature from within. She seemed to glow with such stunning beauty, Joharran caught his breath. Jondalar had always said her smile was remarkable, and he grinned seeing that his brother was not immune to it.
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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